There are several versions of this sculpture containing different components which have been related to mythology, Judaism and Christianity; yet it is ultimately a Masonic carving. It symbolizes that time, patience and perseverance will accomplish all things. The most common symbols are Father Time, a Virgin, a broken column, an urn, a sprig of acacia, and a book, all of which rest on the top level of three steps.
Father Time is most often depicted as an old man with long hair and beard, and a pair of wings. A scythe and hourglass are symbols associated with him. The scythe represents the Divine harvest and the hourglass denotes that the sands of time bring us closer to death. As the scythe cuts the harvest, so life is ended by Father Time. He stands behind a virgin (or young woman) attempting to untangle the ringlets of her hair. It symbolizes that with time and perseverance all things can be accomplished.
The mythological Goddess Rhea is represented by a virgin or weeping woman who grieves over the loss of a loved one. Symbols differ in sculptures, the most common being an urn in her left hand and a sprig of acacia in her right hand. Acacia is an evergreen and represents the immortality of the soul. The urn is a symbol of death and was used to collect tears of the mourners. It is often shown resting on a book symbolic of the Book of Life where names of the righteous were recorded to ensure entry into Heaven.
Other representations show the virgin holding a scroll which is a symbol of life. She can also be found holding a chisel or a mallet. She stands before a sundered column symbolic of a life cut short. (A column or pillar was often used by the Hebrews to symbolize rulers or nobles.)
In Freemasonry, a summary of the sculpture relates the following.
- The broken column denotes the untimely death of Grand Master Hiram Abiff.
- The beautiful Virgin, weeping, denotes the unfinished Temple.
- The book open before her, displays that his virtues are on perpetual record.
- The sprig of acacia in her right hand, represents the timely discovery of his body.
- The urn in her left, that his ashes were there safely deposited to perpetuate the remembrance of so distinguished a character.
- Father Time standing behind her unfolding the ringlets of her hair denotes that time, patience and perseverance will accomplish all things.