Category Archives: Symbolism

Father Time

Father Time also known as the Grim Reaper, the master of death and harvester of souls, symbolizes mortality. He is usually represented with a long beard and long hair carrying a scythe, and often with wings on his back. Hourglass symbols are also 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.

The images above depict Father Time tipping the hourglass above an image of the deceased.

Time passes, memories last. – 1990

Ere sin could blight or sorrow fade
Death came with timely care
The opening bud to heaven conveyed
And bade it blossom there.

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Heavenly Skies

Heaven is the abode of the sun, moon, planets and stars and is the reward of the resurrection.

Stars that pierce the darkness symbolize the spirit overcoming evil and rising to heaven.

A five-pointed also known as a pentagram star was believed to have protective powers against evil. This symbol has been adopted throughout the world with different meanings. The five-pointed pentagram star represents the five senses.

Star 5 point

To Christians, it represents the Star of Bethlehem and is symbolic of the life of Jesus. It may also represent the five wounds of Christ.

To the Jews, it represents the five mosaic books.

This symbol has also been adopted by Masonic organizations (e.g., the Eastern Star).

A six-pointed star represents creation and divine protection as epitomized by the alchemistic signs for fire and water which are an upward and downward apex triangle. It is also called the Creator’s Star with each point representing the days of the week and the hexagram representing the Sabbath.

The interlocking triangles represent the union of opposites.

The six-pointed star or Magen David (Hebrew for Shield of David) is recognized as the emblem of international Judaism. This star comprised of an overlapping upright and an inverted triangle, is associated with David because he carried a hexagram shield against Goliath.

6 star

The sun is a symbol of light and warmth illuminating the world. Its brightness represents everlasting life.

On occasion the sun is shown as a disc with wings.

A rising sun represents the Resurrection whereas a setting sun represents death.

A cross crowned by the rising sun symbolizes Christ’s victory over death and is known as the Easter cross.

cross disc

The Moon which appears in the darkness is symbolic of death; rebirth and Victory.

A crescent moon represents a virgin.

A crescent moon and star symbol denotes that the deceased was a Muslim in life.

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ALPHA & OMEGA

Alpha (A) and Omega (Ω) are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. These letters are often reproduced on gravestones, and when displayed separately Alpha is depicted on the left and Omega on the right.

Frequently the letters are combined to create a recognized Christian symbol derived from the book of Revelation in which they are mentioned in separate verses.
1:8: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
22:13: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

They are commonly used in conjunction with a cross, a crown or the Chi-Rho (a monogram of chi (Χ) and rho (Ρ) which are the first two letters of the Greek word Khristos.

chi-rho

On a side note, there is a cemetery in Henderson, Vance County, North Carolina, USA which bears the name Alpha Omega Cemetery.

Tree Symbolism

The tree as a symbol of life; regeneration, regrowth and renewal also reflects human fruition or frailty. A common symbol on gravestones a tree can also represent man’s sin with reference to the Garden of Eden. It is also representative of knowledge, life, and time.

A sprouting tree represents a new beginning in the afterlife.

If a tree is felled it reflects death and mortality. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A severed or broken branch symbolizes a life cut short.

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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.

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

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

 

The Mythical Sphinx

The sphinx is a mythical creature with the head of a human and the body of a lion, protector of the dead, it is historically connected to the pyramid, the ultimate in tombs.

There are two types of sphinx; most famously the Egyptian sphinx modeled after the Great Sphinx at Giza which represents a male. The head is dressed with a neme, the striped headcloth worn by pharaohs in ancient Egypt.

Occasionally a false beard is displayed. As beards were associated with the gods, Pharaohs wore false beards for ceremonies to express their importance and divine ranking.

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In March 1865 Cambridge, Massachusetts, Dr. Jacob Bigelow proposed that the Mount Auburn Cemetery commission “a public monument in memory of the heroes who have fallen in the present war for the preservation of the Union.” When the trustees postponed making a decision he commissioned the Irish-born sculptor, Martin Milmore, to create a Sphinx to be cut from a single block of Hallowell granite, 15 feet long and about 8 feet high.

The Sphinx was chosen as it represented the strength of a lion and the beauty and benevolence of a woman. The inscription was composed by Dr. Bigelow “American Union Preserved; African Slavery Destroyed; By the Uprising of a Great People; By the Blood of Fallen Heroes.”

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The Brunswig tomb in Metairie Cemetery, New Orleans, Louisiana was built to commemorate Lucien Napoleon Brunswig’s wife, Annie Mercer Brunswig and their son Lucien Mercer Brunswig (1882-1892) who died within a month of each other. His testament instructed his family to bury him inside the tomb with his wife and child. Brunswig is also interred with his two daughters, Henrietta Rosalie Brunswig (1879-1963), and Annie Brunswig Wellborn (1881-1982) and her husband.

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Source: http://www.lacarmina.com/blog/2015/04/metairie-cemetery-tombs-pyramid-statues/

In Greek tradition, the sphinx was in the form of a female who was often bare-breasted and is therefore associated with maternal love.

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Many neo-Egyptian designs in modern cemeteries feature the Greek variety which is often portrayed with the wings of a bird.

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Creative Commons License, Joachim S. Müller. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74743437@N00/8695400390

Within the Hildburghausen Cemetery in Germany a winged Sphinx sits atop the headstone belonging to the 19th century Egyptologist, Doctor Friedrich Carl Ludwig Sickler.

A pyramid marks the Schoenhofen Tomb in the Graceland Cemetery, Chicago. The entry door with a snake coiled on the handle is flanked by a sphinx and an angel. It is the final resting place of Peter Schoenhofen, a Chicago brewer.

The Drake Mausoleum contains members of the family and extended relatives. Originally at Laurel Hill Cemetery it was moved to West Laurel Hill, Philadelphia where it is guarded by a winged Sphinx at each corner of the roof. Thomas Drake Martinez Cardeza and his mother Mrs. Charlotte Drake Martinez Cardeza were surviving passengers of the Titanic shipwreck in 1912. Charlotte was a rich philanthropist who donated millions of dollars to the poor.

female winged_Drake Mausoleum
Source: https://www.mausoleums.com/portfolio/drake-mausoleum/

Shameful

An attack on France’s biggest military graveyard, the Notre Dame de Lorette cemetery, which lies near the town of Arras in France, is the third incident of Muslim tombstone desecration in two years. In April 2008, 148 Muslim graves were vandalised and a pig’s head was hung from a tombstone. That attack came almost exactly a year after a similar incident had occurred.

Inaugurated in 1925, the cemetery houses the remains of about 40,000 victims of a series of long and bloody battles for control of northern France at the start of World War I. The Muslim quarter includes 576 tombs grouped together and turned towards Mecca. The graves of French Muslim war veterans were affected by the graffiti in the form of Swastikas and hateful slogans against Islam on the eve of Islam’s Eid-al-Adha feast. Letters which were painted upon each gravestone linked together in order to spell out anti-Islamic insults.

President Nicolas Sarkozy denounced the latest outrage as “abject and revolting,” calling it “…the expression of a repugnant racism directed against the Muslim community of France”. Police have been scouring the area in the hope of finding the culprits. The attack came almost exactly a year after a similar incident in which neo-Nazi vandals scrawled swastikas on 52 of the cemetery’s Muslim graves.

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Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/worldnews/3683589/
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Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/worldnews/3683589/
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Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/worldnews/3683589/

Tolling of the Bell

 If you go looking for a bell in the cemetery the easiest discovery will be a gravestone engraved with the surname Bell. However, if you are looking for the symbol of a bell unrelated to the surname it will be a long search. A bell is one of the rarest symbols found on headstones and quite simply represents mourning.

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The Dead Bell in the Middle Ages was believed to frighten away evil spirits.

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Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_bell

When someone died the bell ringer passed through the streets of villages, towns or cities ringing the bell slowly and repeatedly while announcing the name of the recently deceased person and details of the funeral. The solemn ringing of the bell led mourners from the home of the deceased to the church where the funeral was held.

In 16th century Britain land for burial was sparse. Coffins were dug up and bones taken to the bone-house so that the grave could be reused. Upon opening the coffins, it was noticed that several had scratch marks on the inside. The realization that people were being buried whilst still alive led to the practice of tying a string on the wrist of the corpse which was attached to a bell above ground while a sentry sat in the cemetery overnight.

A little grave humour:
Harold, the Oakdale gravedigger, upon hearing a bell, went to go see if it was children pretending to be spirits. Sometimes it was also the wind. This time it wasn’t either. A voice from below begged, pleaded to be unburied.
“You Sarah O’Bannon?”
Yes! the voice assured.
“You were born on September 17, 1827?”
“Yes!”
“The gravestone here says you died on February 19?”
“No I’m alive, it was a mistake! Dig me up, set me free!”
“Sorry about this, ma’am,” Harold said, stepping on the bell to silence it and plugging up the copper tube with dirt. “But this is August. Whatever you is down there, you ain’t alive no more, and you ain’t comin’ up.”

The Bell of Hope was a gift from London’s St. Mary-le-Bow, which is the sister church to St. Paul’s Chapel in Manhattan. Installed in the churchyard of St. Paul’s Chapel in September 2002, the Bell of Hope is rung at a ceremony every year on September 11th. It has also been rung after the bombings in Madrid, 2004; London, 2005; Mumbai, 2008; Moscow, 2010; and the Boston Marathon, 2013; and for the shootings at Virginia Tech, 2007 and in Norway, 2011.

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Source: https://walkaboutny.com/2016/09/11/the-bell-of-hope-at-st-pauls-chapel/

The bell is inscribed:
“To the Greater Glory of God
And in Recognition of
The Enduring Links Between
The City of London
And
The City of New York”
“Forged in adversity—11.September.2001”

The La Cambe German Cemetery in Normandy, France where there are 21,222 burials with 207 belonging to unknown soldiers. A peace garden with 1,200 maple-trees is adjacent to the cemetery.

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La Cambe German War Cemetery, Normandy, France. Source: http://www.dday.center/cemetery_de_lacambe.html

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in