Suffer Little Children

There are many different gravestone symbols relating to the death of a child. The most common is the lamb which represents innocence.

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Lamb Lying

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Happy children early blest
Rest in peaceful slumbers, rest
Early rescued from the cares
Which increase with growing years
Though your youth and beauty fair
Cruel death refused to spare
Your souls are winged to worlds on high
And dwell with saints above the sky.

Victorian memento mori of a deceased child is represented by a sleeping child. Sleep is the link between life and death.

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If tears could build a stairway
And memories a lane
I’d walk right up to Heaven
And bring you home again.

A vacant chair also represents the death of a child. Small, empty furniture symbolizes unfulfilled lives of children and represents the child now gone.

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Our family chain is broken
And nothing seems the same
But as God calls us one by one
The Chain will link again

Empty shoes symbolize the loss of a child; often one shoe is overturned. Shoes on a chair identifies childhood and the inability to achieve adulthood.

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A crib is instantly recognized as a the grave of a child.

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Safe in the arms of Jesus

Cherubs also signify the death of a child.

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Suffer little children to come unto me

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Ship Profiles

It is easy to assume that the symbol of a ship on a gravestone identifies the deceased as a sailor, or that he was involved in the seafaring profession, and indeed this is true in many cases. Yet, this symbol can also be found on the graves of people who died at sea.

Flickr photographer, Doctor Beef
Flickr photographer, Doctor Beef

The ship may also represent Noah’s Ark, a ship guided by the Lord, that weathered the storm against overwhelming odds.

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As an ancient Christian symbol the ship was used during times when Christians needed to disguise the cross in the form of the ship’s mast.

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A ship is the symbol of a posthumous voyage where the world of the dead lies across a water barrier. Sailing into the wind, the ship safely carries the soul into the afterlife.

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A full rigged sailing ship with sails open to the wind signifies, ‘Homeward Bound’, carrying the souls of the dead to Heaven.

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Here we lie in a horizontal position
Like a ship laid up
Stripped of her sails and rigging.

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Lo!  Lost remembrance drops a pious tear
And holy friendship stands a mourner here.

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Home is the sailor
Home from the sea.

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When soon or late we reach that coast
O’er life’s rough ocean driven
May we rejoice no wonder or lost
Our family in heaven      1876

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When the shore is won at last
Who will count the billows past.

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Where tempests cease and surges swell no more.

Hand Symbols

The image of hands in some form is very common on gravestones and they are most often shown praying, pointing, clasping or blessing.

Clasped hands shown in a handshake identify the deceased meeting his maker and is a symbolic of a welcome into Heaven. The hands are often seen with the word Farewell inscribed above or below the hands: farewell to earthly existence with the hope of meeting in eternity.

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The depiction of a man holding a woman’s hand (identified by a frilly cuff) indicates marriage or a close bond between individuals, and represents unity and affection even after death. The person who died first holds the other’s hand, guiding the spouse to heaven.

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Most of the hands illustrate the right hand in a grasp with fingers overlapping the other hand while the left hand is open.

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When the handshake is enclosed within a wreath of flowers it denotes heavenly joy and bliss.

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Praying hands are a symbol of devotion, a pious person in life or prayer for eternal life

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Hands holding a book are an embodiment of Faith

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A hand holding a chain with a broken link symbolizes the death of a family member.

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A hand holding a heart is a symbol used by the fraternal organizations I.O.O.F (Independent Order of Odd Fellows) and Masons. It symbolizes charity and is common on 19th century memorials.

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A hand holding a palm leaf is the hand of God reaching down from a cloud to lay a flower on a grave

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Hands making the “Live long and prosper” sign (hands touching at thumbs and sometimes forefingers joined) represents members of the priestly tribe of Aaron. It is a benediction or blessing.

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This image represents the hand of God bringing a soul unto himself.

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Scroll Symbolism

These gravestones are engraved with a scroll which is a symbol of life and time. Rolled at both ends it indicates a life that is unfolding like a scroll of uncertain length where the past and future are hidden.

It can also suggest honor and commemoration; the Law and the Scriptures.

A scroll can also represent the Torah which represents the first five books of the Old Testament.

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Granada, Spain