Category Archives: Symbolism

TREES

A common symbol on gravestones trees have different interpretations on what they represent.

  • The tree is a symbol of life; regeneration, regrowth and renewal
  • It reflects human fruition or frailty
  • Like a tree, man reaches towards Heaven
  • The tree can also represent man’s sin with reference to the Garden of Eden
  • Trees also represent knowledge, life, and time.

If a tree is felled it reflects death and mortality .

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A tree trunk denotes the brevity of life, and the number of broken branches can indicate deceased family members buried at the site.

A severed or broken branch symbolizes a life cut short.

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Each species of tree has a symbolic meaning:

  • CEDAR TREE   Consecration; Length of days; Strong faith; Success
  • CYPRESS   Death; Eternal life; Hope; Mourning; Sorrow; Roman symbol for mourning
  • DOGWOOD   Christianity; Divine sacrifice; Resurrection; Triumph of eternal life
  • EVERGREENS   Immortality
  • HAWTHORN   Hope; Merriness; Spring
  • HOLLY    Foresight
  • MULBERRY    I will not survive you
  • OLIVE TREE   Healing faith; Peace
  • OLIVE BRANCH   Forgiveness; Humanity; Peace
  • PINE    Fertility; Fidelity; Regeneration,
  • YEW   Eternal life; Immortality; Sadness
  • WILLOW   Human life

A sprouting tree represents a new beginning in the afterlife.

Sometimes the gravestone may be replaced with a ‘tree stone’ in the shape of a tree stump or log sculptured to resemble wood. This symbol is mostly used by the Woodmen of the World Fraternity.

Campbellville B Ground

When the trunk is leaning it represents mourning. Sometimes a tree stump will be shown with an ivy plant. It often relates to a premature death but can also represent immortality.

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God’s Creatures

The symbol of a fish represents faith, life and plentifulness. It is a recognized symbol of Christianity often referred to as a Jesus Fish.

Horses symbolize courage, death, and strangely, generosity. More specifically a white horse represents good and a black horse represents evil. Horseshoes were believed to be a protection against evil, and in present day are considered lucky.

The meek trait of a rabbit is recognized in the symbolism of gentleness, humility, and self-sacrifice.

rabbit

A squirrel represents religious meditation and spiritual striving.

Squirrel_MIlton Evergreen

In the world of Memento Mori, the crocodile was a symbol of evil. They were hung from the ceilings of cabinets as a reminder of the mortality of humanity.

Crocodile

The Mylne Tomb

In the historic cemetery known as Greyfriar’s Kirkyard in Edinburgh is the tomb of the Mylne family who were architects and master masons to the Kings of Scotland. Enclosed with an iron fence the memorial is attached to the east wall of a tenement building on Candlemaker Row. The tomb contains the remains of John Mylne, Robert Mylne, William Mylne and Thomas Mylne.

geograph ccl kim traynor
Creative Commons License, Kim Traynor. Source: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2034883

The pediment at the top of the memorial hosts two cherubs flanking the heraldic shield of the Mylne family identified by a knight’s armoured helmet, and a shield containing a Patonce cross with three 5 point stars.

Directly beneath the shield is a grotesque representing a dragon. Additional examples of Memento Mori are present in winged effigies, skulls, an hourglass and crossed torches.

Greyfriars_grotesques

The main inscription written in Latin is displayed in Drapery held in the mouth of a ram:
“John Mylne, who, at the expiry of fifty-five years of this frail life, sleeps softly here, sixth Master-Mason to the King of the family of Mylne, of remarkable skill in the building art, frequently Deacon-Convener of the Trades of Edinburgh, the circumspect and faithful representative of the metropolis on several occasions in the public Parliament of the Kingdom; a man adorned with gifts of mind above his condition in life, of a remarkably handsome person, upright, sagacious, pious, universally respected.
Robert, his brother’s son, emulous of his virtues, as well as his successor in office, has, out of gratitude, erected this monument, such as it is, to his uncle. He died 24th Dec. 1667, in the fifty-sixth year of his age.

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John Mylne’s character is described in a smaller shield:
Great artisan, grave senator, John Mylne,
Renown’d for learning, prudence, parts, and skill,
Who in his life Vitruvius’ art had shown,
Adorning others’ monuments: his own
Can have no other beauty, than his name,
His memory and everlasting fame.
Rare man he was, who could unite, in one,
Highest and lowest occupation;
To sit with statesmen, councillour to kings,
To work, with tradesmen, in mechanick things;
Majestick man, for person, witt, and grace;
This generation cannot fill his place.

cartoucheTwo Corinthian columns are inscribed with dedication.
The left column commemorates Robert Mylne:
Sacred to the Memorie of Robert Mylne of Balfargie,
Master Mason to severall Kings of Scotland;
and Survieor to this Citie,
who, duringe ane active life of honest fame,
Builded amonge manie extensive warks
Mylne’s Court, Mylne’s Square, and
the Abbie of Halie rud house,
Leaving by ane Worthie Wife,
Eight Sonnes and Six Daughters,
All Placed in the World with Credit to himself,
and consecrated this Monument,
To the Honour of his Ancestrie.
Died Decr. 10th, 1710; aged 77.”

Edinburgh places and people

The column on the right:
To the Memory of Thomas Mylne Eldest son of William
Mylne a Deacon of the Masons in Edinburgh
Who Died 5th March1763
To the Memory of William Mylne Master Mason
Eldest son of Robert Mylne of Balfargie
Who Died 9th March 1728.

A cartouche at the base of the stone is inscribed:
Reader, John Mylne, who maketh the fourth John,
and, by descent, from father unto son,
Sixth master mason to a royal race
Of seven successive Kings, sleeps in this place.

 

 

COATS OF ARMS AND CRESTS

The crests and coat of arms that are found in cemeteries were originally flags or emblems for families in the higher social classes of Europe. They were a symbol of status and lineage. Many other crests or shields have a connection to the military or fraternities such as Woodmen of the World already blogged.

Dalkeith_St Nicholas_medallion

CASTLE or TURRET Facta Non Verba means ‘Actions Speak Louder Than Words’.

Castle

The motto of the MONCRIEFFE family is Sur esperance which means ‘In Hope’. Spes Durat Avorum means ‘Let The Hopes Of Our Forefathers Endure’.

clan Moncrieffe

The motto of the family MUNROE is Dread God. The crest contains an eagle perching within a buckled belt.

Clan_Munro_ccl
Creative Commons License, Joe Mabel. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Evergreen_Washelli_-_Clan_Munro_crest_on_gravestone.jpg

The crest of the MACNAB family is comprised of a thistle wrapped in a belt with the clan motto, Timor Omnis Abesto which means ‘Let Fear Be Far From All’.

Aux More Majorum is a Latin phrase used by Legionnaires, it is translated as ‘In The Manner Of Our Elders’.

Milton_Evergreen_insignia0592

The Waldensian movement is a Protestant church in Italy. The symbol is a lighted candle flanked by 3 stars and a crown in the centre. The motto Lux lucet in tenebris translates as ‘The Light That Shines In The Darkness’.

Waldensian

 

The Rosary  

Prayer beads are common in many cultures for example, in Buddhism, they are known as Malas. The Rosary which is specific to Roman Catholicism is devoted to Mary the Blessed Virgin and Mother of Jesus Christ.

Catholics believe the Rosary is a remedy against severe trials, temptations and the hardships of life, and that the Rosary is one of the great weapons given to believers in their battle against evil. They are almost always found on Catholic gravestones as a symbol of devotion to Mary and constant prayer for the deceased person.

The Rosary is comprised of a set of beads to recall events in the life of Jesus and Mary. They are arranged in five sets of ten (decade) and each decade is separated from the next by a larger bead. The two ends of the rosary are joined by a small string holding a crucifix, two large beads, and three small beads, 59 beads in total.

aromemorials

The Joyful Mysteries

  1. The Annunciation: Mary learns that she has been chosen to be the mother of Jesus.
  2. The Visitation: Mary visits Elizabeth, who tells her that she will always be remembered.
  3. The Nativity: Jesus is born in a stable in Bethlehem.
  4. The Presentation: Mary and Joseph take the infant Jesus to the Temple to present him to God.
  5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple: Jesus is found in the Temple discussing his faith with the teachers.

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The Sorrowful Mysteries

  1. The Agony in the Garden:Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before he dies.
  2. The Scourging at the Pillar: Jesus is lashed with whips.
  3. The Crowning With Thorns: Jesus is mocked and crowned with thorns.
  4. The Carrying of the Cross: Jesus carries the cross that will be used to crucify him.
  5. The Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross and dies.

Acton_Dublin_book

The Glorious Mysteries

  1. The Resurrection: God the Father raises Jesus from the dead.
  2. The Ascension: Jesus returns to his Father in heaven.
  3. The Coming of the Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit comes to bring new life to the disciples.
  4. The Assumption of Mary: At the end of her life on earth, Mary is taken body and soul into heaven.
  5. The Coronation of Mary: Mary is crowned as Queen of Heaven and Earth.

Oakville_mary

The Luminous Mysteries were introduced by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

  1. The Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan: God proclaims that Jesus is his beloved Son.
  2. The Wedding Feast at Cana: At Mary’s request, Jesus performs his first miracle turning water into wine.
  3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God: Jesus calls all to conversion and service to the Kingdom.
  4. The Transfiguration of Jesus: Jesus is revealed in glory to Peter, James, and John.
  5. The Institution of the Eucharist: Jesus offers his Body and Blood at the Last Supper.

Cross rosary

The Rope Maker

Samuel Gilmore was a rope maker who owned property on the south side of the Grassmarket area of Edinburgh. His large rope-making factory and retail outlet were located on the north side of Gilmore Street (later renamed Gilmore Place). He also owned a mansion house called Lochrin Lodge whose entrance was on the north side of Home Street adjacent to the factory.

His burial place is in St. Cuthbert’s cemetery, Edinburgh, and his gravestone features many examples of iconography.

  • The headstone is capped with a winged effigy which represents the deceased soul in flight.
  • Skulls on each side of the stone symbolize death, mortality, penitence, and sin.
  • The Masonic compass and set square is a symbol used to represent the Order of Freemasons who view God as the architect and builder of the universe hence the use of these tools. The perfect right angle of the square indicates justice and truth, and the compass, capable of drawing a perfect circle, represents the all-embracing love of God.
  • The arches on each side of the stone denote an entrance to Heaven or a passageway to eternal life.
  • The drape drawn back represents the veil of death.

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Although the inscription has all but disappeared due to weather erosion, the original details are recorded on the clipping below. (#616 Obelisk refers to the square base with inscription next to Samuel’s grave.)

Capture

Fraternity of Knights

It is not difficult to find symbols of fraternities within a cemetery, and most of these fraternities required from their members a belief in a higher power. Less common than the Masonic, Woodsmen of the World, or International Order of Oddfellows symbols are the ‘Knight” Fraternities of which I highlight only a few.

The Knights Templar, a Catholic military order was founded in 1119. Famous for their military prowess in the Crusades the majority of the order was non combative.  symbol consists of a cross within a crown inside a Maltese cross, with the Latin phrase, “In Hoc Signo Vinces.” The phrase means “in this sign you shall conquer”.

knightstemplar

The Fraternal Order of the Knights of Pythias is an international fraternity that promotes universal peace. It was founded in Washington, DC during the Civil War by Justus H. Rathbone. A heraldic shield with a suit of armor or letters F C B indicate a member of the Knights of Pythias.

The Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization. Founded by Michael J. McGivney in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1882, it was named in honor of the explorer Christopher Columbus to provide a Catholic alternative to secret societies and to support the families of men who died while working in factories. The present day Fraternity is engaged in local and global charities inside and outside the Catholic church.

Knights Columbus