When an organization owns a piece of land which will never pass to another owner, it's known as a mortmain. A church's property is often protected by a mortmain. Mortmain literally means “dead hand.”

The noun mortmain is primarily a legal term, describing a kind of protection of a group's hold on property or land. Historically, buildings and land owned by a church organization would have a mortmain to protect the church against losing the property even after the death of the person in charge. In Old French, mortemain literally means "dead hand," from the Medieval Latin manus mortua, which in legal terms means "inalienable power."

Definitions of mortmain
  1. noun
    real property held inalienably (as by an ecclesiastical corporation)
    synonyms: dead hand
    see moresee less
    type of:
    immovable, real estate, real property, realty
    property consisting of houses and land
  2. noun
    the oppressive influence of past events or decisions
    synonyms: dead hand, dead hand of the past
    see moresee less
    type of:
    a power to affect persons or events especially power based on prestige etc
Word Family

Test prep from the experts

Boost your test score with programs developed by’s experts.

  • Proven methods: Learn faster, remember longer with our scientific approach.
  • Personalized plan: We customize your experience to maximize your learning.
  • Strategic studying: Focus on the words that are most crucial for success.


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 8 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 10 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week


  • Number of words: 700+
  • Duration: 10 weeks
  • Time: 1 hour / week