In the 19th century, separation of Dutch society into groups by religion and associated political beliefs (known as pillars) meant that many people had little or no personal contact with people from another pillar. Within the graveyard of Roermond in the Netherlands is a dividing wall separating Protestant and Catholic burials.
Married for 40 years Colonel J.W.C. van Gorkum was a Protestant, and noblewoman J.C.P.H. van Aefferden was a Roman Catholic. When the Colonel died in 1880 his wife knew that society would not allow her to be buried next to him. The solution was ingenious. Van Aefferden made arrangements for the Colonel to be buried near the wall, and she would be buried in the same location on the other side of the wall.
Two hands clasping across the divide symbolizes their love and union, and no doubt a visual rebuff against Dutch society at the time.
COL Jacobus Warnerus Constantinus van Gorkum (10 Jan 1809–29 Aug 1880)
Josephina Carlina Petronela Hubertina van Aefferden (28 Jun 1820–29 Nov 1888)
These two stones are located in the Pantdu Cemetery, Cwmafan, Near Port Talbot, Wales.
The gravestone below shows a female hand (lace cuff) holding a single rose. The rose represents love and purity and the brevity of life on earth. Life, like a blooming flower, is never meant to be permanent. The deceased apparently suffered from a long illness before passing on.
In Loving Memory Of / Catherine / Wife Of John Webb / Who Died April 8 1894 / Aged 56 Years
Affliction Sore Long Time I Bore / Physicians Were In Vain; / Till God Was Pleased To Give Me Ease / And Free Me From My Pain.
Also The Above Named / John Webb / Who Died May 26 1915 / Aged 76 Years
For I Know That My Redeemer Liveth
The following headstone is engraved with three roses, one for each of the deceased. The stone is unusual in that the engraver added punctuation to the legend – not commonly applied.
In Loving Memory Of / Frederick, / The Beloved Son Of / John And Mary Jane Gamlin / Pontypridd, / Who Died June 18 – 1893, / Aged 9 Months.
Short Was Our Little Darlings Stay, / He Came Just As A Guest, / Just Tasted Life And Fled Away, / To His Eternal Rest.
Also The Above Named / John Gamlin, / Who Died July 7 – 1950, / Aged 80 Years. / Also His Beloved Wife / Mary Jane Gamlin, / Who Died May 21, 1954, / Aged 81 Years.
Both stones were erected in the late 1800s, and yet one appears to have endured much better than the other.
The hourglass and the sundial are symbols of time, and as such are often found within the cemetery. However, the perfect allegory for life and death is the clock identifying the passage of time. The clock face is a rare image and appears to have been most common in the late 1700s.
Here lies interred the body of / Mrs. Abigail Williams / the Relict of the / Rev M. John Williams of / this place. She died June y / 21st 1754 in the 82d / year of her age
Here lies the body of / Mrs. Abigail Paine / Relict widow of / Mr. Samuel Paine. / She died Jan y 13th / 1752 in the 80th / year of her age.
The design of these two gravestones is identical. Note the Memento Mori of crossbones and a pick and shovel. The numbers on the clock face are Roman Numerals. The hands are most often set in a vertical line pointing to 12 and 6. The meaning for this is unknown although a possible explanation is that it represents a dividing line between the earthly life and the heavenly life.
*Relict is an old English term for widow
* Y is an abbreviation of ‘the’
A more recent gravestone still indicates to 12 and 6 o’clock but the numbers are not Roman Numerals, and in the image below according to the engraving, it would appear to have been an actual working clock. My Father’s Clock Placed Here At My Request.
Another modern clock uses Roman Numerals yet it is set to a specific time, perhaps the time of death? You Shared My Dreams For The Future / You Shared My Past / You Were My First Love / And You Are My Last / We Met, Loved And Will Again / Whither Thou Goest I Will Go.
Marcel Broodthaers, a Belgian poet and artist, who died in 1976, designed his own gravestone located in Ixelles Cemetery, Brussels. Engraved on both sides the front of the stone reveals that he was born and died on the same day and month; there is speculation that he committed suicide and may have therefore designed his death.
A phrase on the front of the stone, O Mélancolie Aigre Château Des Aigles, (Sour Melancholy Castle Of Eagles) is part of a line from one of Broodthaers’ poems. In 1968, he announced that he was no longer an artist and appointed himself director of his own museum, which he called the Musée d’Art Moderne, Département des Aigles (Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles).
The back of the gravestone is a compendium of symbols, and is indicative of Broodthaers’ first solo exhibition in 1964 where he exhibited everyday objects, words, lettering and drawings.
This eclectic mix of symbols is accompanied by letters of the alphabet and the words, Moderato and Allegro which are both music tempos. The phrase Chez Le Droguiste Op Den Hoek appears to be Dutch and translates as, At The Druggist On The Corner.
In 1968 he used thin vacuum-formed plastic signs to create industrial poems with cryptic text and imagery. Academie I was one of those art forms relating geometric shapes to nature.
The clock at the top of the stone differs from similar symbols in that the Roman Numeral XII is outside the clock face. Both hands point to midnight yet one hand is also located outside the clock face.
A bottle, perhaps champagne, is marked with his birth year 1924.
One of his well-known works, Casserole and Closed Mussels, was created from accessible materials and everyday objects including eggshells and mussels. He published a poem on the subject of La Moule in which he described the mussel as a perfect creature which creates the shell which then contains itself.
A tobacco pipe emitting smoke is a reference to a painting, The Treachery of Images, by his friend and famous Surrealist Rene Magritte. It portrays an image of a pipe with the words, This is not a pipe.
The four geometric shapes reflect the 1966 Primary Structures exhibition in New York and Broodthaers’ later pronouncement that there are no primary structures.
And lastly, in the bottom right hand corner is the image of an open book. This reflects his first art object in which he embedded into plaster fifty unsold copies of his book of poems, Pense-Bête.
A graveyard at the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Eklutna, Alaska is filled with burial sites in the form of large dollhouses. Russian Orthodox missionaries who lived in the area in the early 19th century lived side by side with Athabaskan natives.
The Athabascan burial practice began with placing a blanket over the grave to comfort the departed soul. Forty days later a spirit box was placed on top. The size of the box was determined by social status and was painted with tribal colours. Athabascans believed that that which is taken from the Earth must be allowed to return and therefore the spirit houses were not maintained and left to decay.
People who were members of the church also have their graves marked with the Orthodox Christian Cross. The upper horizontal bar represents the inscription over the head of Jesus. The Middle Bar is the board on which the Lord’s hands were nailed, and the slanting bar represents the footrest.
The image of a snake weaving through the eye socket is very popular with artists in particular tattoo artists. However, it’s meaning is not as dark as it may seem. The snake is symbolic of renewal perhaps because of its ability to shed its skin. When combined with a skull it indicates that there is rebirth and resurrection.