Category Archives: Symbolism

Freemason

This gravestone in Melaten Cemetery, Cologne, Germany is the resting place of Dr. Franz Leuffen, a medical doctor who wrote a book in the 1860s on the subject of post-mortems. He was also a high ranking Freemason which explains the reason for Masonic symbols on his headstone.

The top of the gravestone is adorned with foliage and a snake. Although religious groups consider it a symbol of sin and Satan, a snake also represents everlasting life. The sprig of Acacia, an evergreen whose leaves fall neither in summer nor in winter, is also symbolic of everlasting life.

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Engraved letters beneath the snake are from the Greek alphabet and spell the word GNOSIS meaning inner knowledge.

A five-pointed star, also known as a pentagram, represents the five senses. This symbol has been adopted throughout the world with different meanings, one of which is a protection against evil.

During the Renaissance period in Europe, it was common to illustrate the Eye of God surrounded by a triangle to represent the Holy Trinity. The 25 radiating rays of the sun are used to symbolize the holiness of the Supreme Deity.

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Symbolism of a Circle

It’s commonly known that a circle has no beginning and no end, and therefore represents eternal life.

An image within a circle identifies that the memory of the loved one will never end.

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A circle that contains a dot in the center is the Boy Scout trail sign for “I have gone home”.

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Fenian Poet

‘Fenian’ was a fraternal organisation dedicated to the establishment of an independent Irish Republic in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Christened John Keegan Casey, this Irish poet who adopted ‘Leo’ as a penname, was loved by his people for his inspirational poetry. Born at the height of the 19th century famine he lived through the starvation and poverty suffered by millions of Irish peasants. The British, who feared the motivational power and inspirational words of his poems which inspired rebellion and patriotism, arrested him and locked him in a prison cell of mental and physical torture. When he was eventually released he was a broken young man and died soon afterward from his ill-treatment (1846 to 1870).

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The memorial stone is in Glesnevin Cemetery, County Dublin, Ireland. It was created by monumental builder and sculptor Thomas Dennany and is in the form of a Celtic cross. Within the center is an Agnus Dei (a Christian symbol depicting a lamb standing on the ground, holding by the right forefoot a banner flying on a wooden cross). It represents the risen Christ triumphant over death. Engraved around the circle is the legend, Jesus Mercy Joseph Pray. The pillar of the cross is detailed with a diamond pattern containing a Botonee cross and shamrocks.

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The cross is mounted on a base representative of shale rock upon which a dog is resting accompanied by a harp, sunrays and a scroll listing some of his songs including: The Rising Of The Moon / Our Pledge/ The Final Cast / The Convict Lay / A Cretan Song.

On the right side is a sculpture of a ruined tower and windows in the style of Gothic architecture.

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In Memory Of John Keegan Casey / Leo / Patriot Poet Novelist / Member Of The Irish Republican Brotherhood / Author Of The Rising Of The Moon / And Many Soul Stirring National Ballads And Songs / Born 22nd August 1846. Died St. Patrick’s Day 1870 / From His Youth His Life Was Devoted To The Cause Of Irish Freedom / His Last Words Were A Prayer Of Intercession For His Country’s Liberty / And His Soul’s Salvation.

This Cross Is Erected By The Monuments Committee Of The Young Ireland Society / As An Humble Tribute Of Love And To Commemorate His Principles. / His Noblest Monument Is His Works In Which His Spirit Must Ever Live / May He Rest In Peace.

The Angel of Death Victorious

Located in Lakeview Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio, is the grave of Francis Haserot whose family were among the elite and wealthy of Cleveland during the early twentieth century. Their fortune was earned in the food industry and so highly successful that the company continues to distribute high-quality canned foods across Ohio and Michigan.

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Creative Commons License, Ian MacQueen. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Matzen#/media/File:Angel_of_Death_Victorious.jpg

Seated on a marble dais the statue, commonly known as the Haserot Angel, is also referred to as the Weeping Angel although its technical name is The Angel of Death Victorious. The sculpture was created in bronze by Herman Matzen in 1923 for the Haserot family. Herman Matzen was an American sculptor and educator, born in Denmark (July 15, 1861 – April 22, 1938).

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The life-size statue is seated with raised wings. Her hands rest on an inverted torch with flame extinguished. Inverted torches are the more common version of this symbol of death and a life extinguished. It represents mourning.

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With solemn face and blackened eye sockets she appears to be weeping black tears. This eerie effect is caused by a process called patination. Bronze sculptures acquire a green patina formed by the metal’s reaction with carbon dioxides and sulfur dioxides. Although this patina is the equivalent to rust on iron, copper in the bronze reacts with different colors. (Bronze is an alloy consisting primarily of copper).

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Literary Epitaphs

Note that in each of these memorial photographs a token (stones, coins, pennies, a rose and a sunflower) has been left on the grave symbolizing that someone had visited and remembered.

The words on Sylvia Plath’s grave were selected by her poet husband, Ted Hughes, from one of the four great classic novels of Chinese literature, Monkey: Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en.

The complete quotation reads: “Even in the midst of fierce flames the Golden Lotus may be planted, the five elements compounded and transposed, and put to new use. When that is done, be which you please, Buddha or Immortal.”

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John Keats was only 25 years old when he died in Rome on February 23rd, 1821 with his friend Joseph Severn by his side. He is buried at the Cemitero Acattolico, Rome.

Keats expressed the wish that on his gravestone no name or date should be written, only the inscription ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water’. Above it was to be carved a Greek lyre with four of its eight strings broken ‘to show his Classical Genius cut off by death before its maturity’ as Severn later interpreted it.

This grave contains all that was mortal, of a young English poet, who, on his death bed, in the bitterness of his heart, at the malicious power of his enemies, desired these words to be engraven on his tomb stone.
Here Lies One Whose Name Was Writ In Water
Feb 24th 1821

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Robert Frost died in 1963 when he was 88 years old and is buried in Bennington, Vermont. In 1941 he wrote a poem with eight verses titled The Lesson For Today. The last line of the poem has become one of his most famous and is recorded for eternity on his gravestone. I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.

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William Blake 1757-1827, a renowned poet, was also the grandfather of J. R. R. Tolkien. Blake died in obscurity in 1827 and was buried in an unmarked common grave in Bunhill Fields cemetery in London, England. The Blake Society raised donations from around the world to purchase a new memorial to mark his burial place.
Here lies William Blake, 1757-1827, Poet Artist Prophet
I give you the end of a golden string
Only wind it into a ball
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate
Built in Jerusalem’s hall

The following headstones are hand carved memorials artfully created by stonecarver, lettercutter and designer, Teucer Wilson. http://www.teucerwilson.co.uk/portfolio/memorials/memorialsgallery/images-memorials-meikle-jpg/

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The winter is past flowers appear on the earth and the singing of birds is come
This is an adaptation of the Song of Solomon 2:12. “The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”

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We shall find you in the grey summer garden amid the rain-wet roses; stir of wings; stir of wings and the morning hills behind you. This is an adaptation of the poem Idyll by Siegfried Sassoon.

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This hand carved slate gravestone is located in Kensall Green Cemetery, London. Felix was only a baby when he died, and the symbolism on this stone reflects this. The quotation is from William Shakespeare’s song Fear No More The Heat O’ The Sun.
Golden lads and girls all must as chimney-sweepers come to dust

Rosalia’s Mummy

The Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, Sicily, holds 8000 mummified bodies. One of the last corpses to be admitted to the Catacombs is the mummy of Rosalia Lombardo who is believed to have died from a bronchial infection/pneumonia. Born on 13 December 1918 she died on 6 December 1920 shortly before her second birthday. Her father is believed to be Mario Lombardo although there are no official documents to confirm this. According to legend Mario was so distraught that he contracted an embalmer named Alfredo Salafia to preserve Rosalia for eternity. The cadaver was injected with a fluid to kill bacteria and fungi, desiccate the body without over-drying, and give the body rigidity.

There are no known photographs of Rosalia when she was alive. Earlier photos of the mummification show a very lifelike Rosalia. However, her skin tone has become discoloured with each passing decade most likely due to the damaging effects from light sources which has also changed her hair colour to blonde (she was born a brunette).

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Source: https://imgur.com/gallery/z56SE/comment/344185950

This tiny sleeping beauty whose hair is adorned with a yellow ribbon rests beneath a faded silk blanket in a glass coffin. The casket which has been hermetically sealed within a glass enclosure filled with nitrogen gas to prevent decay is seated on a marble pedestal in a small chapel. On her chest is a faded talisman showing a cherub holding a lamb which represents purity and innocence.

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Source: http://sicilymummystudies.blogspot.com/2016/07/mummy-monday-little-rosalia-lombardo.html

Over the years, speculation was made that the mummy of Rosalia Lombardo had decayed and had been replaced with a wax reproduction. Rosalia’s coffin was x-rayed for a documentary by the History Channel in the 2000s. It revealed a skeletal structure and internal organs that were still intact. Her brain had shrunk 50% due to the mummification process.

No one had ever looked beneath the blanket that covers Rosalia’s body since she was sealed inside her coffin. When National Geographic performed an MRI to produce the first 3D images of Rosalia’s mummified body in 2009 it showed her arms resting at her sides. The MRI also confirmed that all her organs were intact.

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Source: https://owlcation.com/humanities/RosaliaLombardo

Borsi Torchbearer

The Porte Sante cemetery is a monumental cemetery in Florence located within the fortified bastion of the basilica of San Miniato al Monte. This interesting cemetery, from which it is possible to enjoy an extraordinary view of Florence, houses some illustrious tombs including the Borsi memorial to numerous family members.

The memorial to Averardo Borsi and his daughter Laura is adorned with the statue of a naked prone man holding a flaming torch in his right hand with his left fist clenched.

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Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/michael_hamburg/7409813706

The torch is symbolic of the darkness of death and the light in the world to come. A winged cherub looks down on the grave located in the section reserved for non-Catholics in the cemetery. The family were not religious, and as Averardi and Laura died without the sacrament they were denied a Christian burial.

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Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/michael_hamburg/7409813706

Averardo was married to Verdiana Fabbri known as Diana. They had three children; Laura born on 31 December 1886, Giosue born on 10 June 1888 and Gino born on 10 December 1891.

Averardo died on 10 December 1910 due chiefly to grief over a family tragedy which involved the honour of his daughter. In 1908, Laura had given birth to a son named Dino following a relationship with Gabriele Maria D’Annunzio (known as Gabriellino), an Italian actor, director and screenwriter. Laura, who was a brilliant and promising actress, died on 18 July 1912 due to complications from what was most likely food poisoning after eating raw oysters. Her infant son, who was never recognized by his father, died in March 1913.

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Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/michael_hamburg/7409822710/

Giosue Borsi was born on 10 June 1888. He was a journalist for his father’s newspaper and a famed poet. As an Italian Lieutenant in WW1 known for his valor, he was killed in action on 10 Nov 1915. On the centenary of his birth to recognize his life and his sacrifice, a plaque was placed in the memorial chapel of Piazza di Montenero, Livorno, Italy.

Gino served as a Corporal with the 2nd Artillery Regiment. In 1916 he married Chiti Lilia (1893 – 1973) with whom he had three daughters: Giulia born in 1920; Lauretta who was born in 1921 died in Florence on October 26, 1927 after an excruciating illness; and Laura born in 1928 – it was the tradition at the time that if the first child died, a second child was given the same name in order to perpetuate the name within the family. Gino died in Florence in 1976.

Epitaphs on the memorial record the lives of

Averardo Borsi 1858-1910 and his wife Diana 1865-1942

Laura Borsi1886-1912 and her son Dino Borsi 1908-1913

Gino 1891-1976 and his wife Lilia 1893-1973, and his daughter Lauretta Borsi 1921-1927

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Holocaust Memorials in Paris

The city of Paris has acknowledged the plight of Jews in the multitude of memorials dedicated to the victims of the German concentration camps. Within the grounds of Pere Lachaise Cemetery each concentration camp is recognized on its own memorial.

AUSCHWITZ, the main camp, was located in Oświęcim in southern Poland to hold Polish political prisoners. The camp went on to become a major site of the Nazis’ Final Solution to the Jewish Question. Most of the Jews from all over German-occupied Europe who were sent to the camp were gassed on arrival. More than 1.3 million men, women and children died in the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps, the vast majority of whom were Jews.

Auschwitz was also known as Monowitz-Buna, Buna and Auschwitz III. The memorial consists of five emaciated figures in bronze bearing witness to the suffering and exhaustion of the deportees. A body carried in a wheelbarrow reminds us of the frightening mortality of this camp.

BIRKENAU This memorial is in the form of a column with the featureless silhouette of a human figure standing over an engraved plaque. Written in script are lines from the poet Paul Eluard: When we will no longer kill, they will be avenged … The only vow of justice has life as its echo.

BERGEN-BELSEN in northern Germany was an “exchange camp” where Jewish hostages were held with the intention of exchanging them for German prisoners of war held overseas.

The memorial represents the railway tracks leading to the gates of the camp. Between the ‘railway tracks’ are footprints in various sizes representing all age groups arriving at the camp. It was in this camp that the young Anne Franck died along with her sister.

1943 They suffered and hoped. You fight for your freedom. 
1945 We broke their bodies never their minds. 

BUCHENWALD near Weimar, Germany, was one of the first and the largest of the concentration camps within Germany’s 1937 borders. Many actual or suspected communists were among the first internees. All prisoners worked primarily as forced labor in local armaments factories.

The memorial expresses the horror and violence in the concentration camp system. Three emaciated prisoners define suffering, death, solidarity and resistance.

DACHAU, north of Munich in southern Germany, was a forced labor camp which imprisoned Jews, German and Austrian criminals, and eventually foreign nationals from countries that Germany occupied or invaded.

The two pillars forming a gateway are symbolic of the gates of Heaven. The red granite triangle represents the patch worn on political prisoners’ clothes.

A plaque to the left of the stairs is inscribed with a quotation by Edmond Michelet. We have surveyed abysses in ourselves and in others.

DRANCY was an internment camp run by the French located in a northeastern suburb of Paris. It was an assembly and detention camp for confining Jews who were later deported to the extermination camps.

The Memorial reads in translation Inscription engraved at Ninth Fort of Kaunas deported by Convoy 73. In memory of 878 Jews deported from Drancy May 15, 1944 to Kaunas (Lithuania) and Reval-Tallinn (Estonia). 22 returned in 1945.

FLOSSENBURG A map identifies the location of the camp which unlike other concentration camps was located in a remote area in the mountains of Bavaria. Quarries, arms and aviation factories surrounded it. Although the camp’s initial purpose was to exploit the forced labor of prisoners for the production of granite for Nazi architecture they eventually produced armaments for the war effort.

The imprint of a staircase of ten steep steps are visible at the base of the monument in addition to four blocks of cut stone.

MAUTHAUSEN This concentration camp was located on a hill above the market town of Mauthausen in Upper Austria. It was one of the first massive concentration camp complexes in Nazi Germany, and the last to be liberated by the Allies.

Seven blocks of were used to reproduce the monument. Stairs carved into the granite from the quarry of Mauthausen represent 186 uneven steps known as the staircase of death that prisoners had to mount with stones weighing more than 20 kilos on their backs. A bronze statue depicts an emaciated prisoner collapsing under the weight of his load.

NATZWEILER-STRUTHOF located in the Vosges Mountains in France was the only concentration camp established by the Nazis on French territory. Prisoners were mainly from the resistance movements in German-occupied territories. This labor and transit camp eventually became a place of execution.

This memorial is the form of a triangle. The red triangle identified political prisoners and the letter F was an indication to the Germans that the prisoner could speak French and could be called upon to translate. The bronze sculpture of an emaciated figure lies beneath a stone wall with the letters NN, acronym for Nacht und Nabel (a Nazi directive targeting political activists).

NEUENGAMME This camp was located near Hamburg in Northern Germany close to railway and metallurgy factories. With over 85 satellite camps the Neuengamme camp became the largest concentration camp in Northwest Germany. The memorial is created in white granite and the plaque reads in translation under this stone is a bit of ash from the seven thousand French martyrs murdered by the Nazis at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp – they died for us to live free – their families and comrades, survivors have erected this monument to their memory November 13, 1949“

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Source: https://untappedcities.com/2012/03/13/the-treasures-of-the-pere-lachaise-cemetery-part-ii/

ORANIENBURG AND SACHSENHAUSEN Used primarily for political prisoners from 1936 to the end of the Third Reich in May 1945. The prisoners were also used as a workforce, with a large task force of prisoners from the camp sent to work in the nearby brickworks to meet Albert Speer’s vision of rebuilding Berlin. At the base of the monument, a symbolic barbed wire fence impales an emaciated prisoner.

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Source: http://historichouston1836.com/holocaust-memorials-at-pere-lachaise-cemetery-paris-france/

RAVENSBRUCK was a camp exclusively for women from 1939 to 1945, located in northern Germany. The prisoners were used as slave labor. Two hands linked in captivity and solidarity emerge from roughly hewn stones one of which is engraved; Here lies the ashes of deported women martyrs of Nazi barbarism.

Hill of Crosses

Throughout the centuries as Lithuania fought for independence from the Soviet Union the people prayed at the Domantai Hill Fort in northern Lithuania. They brought with them crosses made from different mediums and of all sizes. Although the site was bulldozed by the Russians several times there was an estimated 100,000 crosses in 2006. Pope John Paul declared it as a site of hope, peace, love and sacrifice in 1993.

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Creative Commons License, Diego Delso. Source: Wiipedia
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Creative Commons License, Diego Delso. Source: Wiipedia
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Creative Commons License, Diego Delso. Source: Wiipedia
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Creative Commons License, Kyle Taylor. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kyletaylor/4049177569

Fritz Family Tree

Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum in Cincinnati, Ohio is the third largest cemetery in the United States. Within its gates is the 9-10 feet tall Fritz Tree Memorial carved in sandstone by H. Suhre in 1873. His mark resembles a tire, H. Suhre/Maker. Herman W. Suhre was a German immigrant who established the Suhre & Oberhelman monument company.

The oak tree (Germany’s national tree) is embellished with ivy (symbolic of immortality), and oak leaves and acorns (ripe old age). Ivy vines emerge from the ground giving the impression of four legs. A sculpture near the ground reveals two hands holding a long handled axe which undoubtedly created the hatch marks on the trunk and the severed limbs with smooth cut surfaces for engraving.

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Source: https://www.facebook.com/pg/sgcemetery/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10150383943175536

The marble figure on top of the monument represents the Fritz family’s German heritage and is a representation of ‘Germania’; historically a robust woman with long, flowing, reddish-blonde hair, wearing armour, wielding a sword and holding a shield. This statue holds the sword in her right hand and in her left hand is a wreath resting against a shield decorated with stars and stripes.

Directly beneath Germania is the statue of a priest dressed in long robes with lace trim. Standing on two severed branches, it gives the impression that he is in a pulpit. An open book resting on a log at the base of the tree may have fallen from his hands. Depictions of an open book are often used on the gravestones of ministers or clergymen. However, it is sometimes found on gravestones of very devoted religious people.

The memorial, adorned with iconography, contains many epitaphs to members of the Fritz family.

Oak leaves and acorns droop over a joint epitaph for Wilhemina/Fritz/Wife Of/J. Fritz Born/June 18, 1837/Died January 1/1876/Age 38/Years 6/Months. A feminine hand denoted by the flower on the cuff points with outstretched finger to Wilhemina’s inscription. Her husband, Jacob/Fritz/Born Aug 2/1833/died March 20/1884 was a butcher at Salisman Sausage Co. in Cincinnati.

Katharina/Fritz/Born Oct 30/1841/Died Jan 29/1904. A hand descends from Heaven with outstretched finger pointing to her epitaph.

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Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/zachsdame/sets/72157603320074532/with/1215132407/

A joint epitaph for William and Elizabeth is attached to a sculptured log. A vine separates the two inscriptions, Wm Fritz/April 11, 1858/April 29, 1911 and Elizabeth/Fritz/1863-1937. Situated at the stump of a branch is a padlock attached to three links of a chain (everlasting love) or it could be symbolic of the key to the gates of Heaven.

A hand emerges from within oak leaves and acorns with outstretched finger pointing to the epitaph of a young boy named H.E. Charles Fritz Born/Nov 15th 1862/Died May 18th 1873/Age 10 years 6 months 3 days.

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Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/zachsdame/sets/72157603320074532/with/1215132407/ource:

A hand with outstretched finger pointing down symbolizes the hand of God descending from Heaven. The finger points to the epitaph of Jacob F. Fritz/Oct 31, 1884/May 24, 1927. The scroll also contains a Masonic symbol.

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Source: http://hobgoblintaphophile.blogspot.com/2015/11/fritz-tree-stone-spring-grove-cemetery.html

A hand descends from Heaven with outstretched finger pointing to the epitaph of Lillian Fritz 1889-1963.

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Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/zachsdame/sets/72157603320074532/with/1215132407/

In the upper regions of the tree is an anchor with entwined snake (symbolic of immortality). The anchor is suspended by a chain hanging from a protruding scroll. The scroll contains an inscription using Blackletter font, part of which reads Geboren Warden which means to be born.

The fight between good and evil is represented by a dove (peace) pecking at the tail of a squirrel (Satan). There is what appears to be a padlock above which is also a Freemasons icon.

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A ribbon wreath encircles a small bouquet of flowers.

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Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/zachsdame/sets/72157603320074532/with/1215132407/