Category Archives: Symbolism

A Tale On Stone

St. Andrew’s cemetery in Peebles, Scotland, offers a variety of centuries-old gravestones. A tower within the grounds is the only remaining part of St. Andrew’s church which was destroyed in the 16th century.

The hourglass is a classic symbol measuring time until the sand runs out, and as such, is the perfect allegory for life and death controlled by the hands of God.
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The skull and crossed bones is symbolic of crucifixion, death, and mortality. These symbols were commonly used together.

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The effigy of a face embraced with wings is a symbol of the deceased soul in flight.
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Forget them. No we never will
We loved them here we love them still
Nor, love them less although they are gone
From us to their eternal home.   1887

The image below shows two trumpeting cherubs heralding the soul’s entrance into Heaven. The circle signifies eternal life with no beginning and no end. The skull represents death, and the words Memento Mori is a Latin phrase meaning, Remember that you have to die.
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The open compass on the top of the stone denotes a Masonic affiliation. The urn or casket is a container of the soul. The drapes and bouquets of flowers are symbolic of grief and mourning. The skull signifies death and the winged effigy represents the deceased soul in flight. This legend is resolved with the phrase Memento Mori.
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Another stone with multiple symbols relates a similar story with additional symbols. Two snakes intertwined around a rod are held by God’s hands, and a dove is situated between the snake heads. This symbol represents resurrection and peace.

The Latin phrase, Fugit Hora meaning the hour flees is aptly set above the wings, and Memento Mori is also aptly set between the skull and hourglass.
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Two hands holding a figure of the deceased represent God.
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These images containing a cross behind a circle symbolize eternity and God’s endless love through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The first two images show a Patée cross identified by the narrowing of the arms towards the center.

The image below shows the circle of eternity with a Latin cross.
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A cairn is a heap of stones used as a marker for the dead. The scroll represents the scriptures and symbolizes honor and commemoration.
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The draped urn is a symbol of mourning.
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Wooden Markers

Wooden markers – we can’t really call them gravestones or headstones when they are made of wood – were initially used due to availability and low expense. However, the wood which deteriorated rather quickly due to weather conditions was also subject to forest fires.

Friedrich Glauser Schrefleller was a Swiss native and a celebrated writer in the German language. For most of his brief time on earth (1896-1938) he was addicted to opium, and on the evening prior to his wedding he suffered a stroke and died two days later.
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Charles Morgan Blessing, a miner, was shot in the head and robbed by Hames Barry who was hanged as a result of this crime. The murder took place in Cariboo, British Columbia, Canada.
In memory of C. M. Blessing, a native of Ohio, aged 30 years was murdered near this spot May 31 1866.

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Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Wooden_grave_markers#/media/File:BLESSING%27S_GRAVE,_CARIBOO_DISTRICT,_BRITISH_COLUMBIA.jpg

This wooden grave marker circa 1850 is located on a steep hillside near Virginia City, Nevada. The graves located there are host to people from varied social and economic status and as a result, the grave markers within the Silver Terrace Cemeteries are made from a variety of wood, metal and stone.
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A tired and worn marker situated in the old Malay Cemetery in Singapore.

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Source: https://thelongnwindingroad.wordpress.com/tag/old-malay-cemetery/

During WWI, A.I.F. Private Frank Gallagher, age 23, was killed on 23 August 1918. A wooden battalion cross was erected at the site of his death; Bray-sur-Somme. A photograph of the wooden cross has been modified by Frank’s mother by pasting a photo of Frank in uniform.

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Source: https://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/ww1/frank-gallaghers-grave-markers

Jason Hayes who died when he was 74 is buried in Barnet, Georgia.

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Source: https://vanishingnorthgeorgia.com/2016/02/20/barnett-methodist-church-circa-1876/

The Horváth family from the Almad Forest in Transylvania, are identified with a wooden marker in the Kecskemét Reformed Cemetery, Bács-Kiskun County, Hungary. The marker is engraved with the name Karolyne Horváth who died on 4 March 1930 and Dr. Karoly Horváth who was born in 1873 and died in 1943.

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Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kecskem%C3%A9ti_reform%C3%A1tus_temet%C5%91,_Horv%C3%A1th_csal%C3%A1d_s%C3%ADrja,_%27Erd%C3%A9lyb%C5%91l_j%C3%B6tt,_Erd%C3%A9lyr%C5%91l_%C3%A1lmodik%27,_Sz%C3%A9chenyiv%C3%A1ros,_2016_Hungary.jpg

The partial image of a wooden marker is worn and broken. In the centre of the marker is a circle containing a form of four Tau crosses. The Tau is one of the oldest forms of a cross, believed to have been held by Moses in the wilderness.
On the right of the photograph is a worn engraving: a circle divided into 8 sections. This could be a symbol for God or Holy Spirit.

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Source: https://tiltedpixel.wordpress.com/2010/08/26/wooden-grave-marker/

Cross Images

Although the Crux Immissa (LATIN cross) is commonly acknowledged as the type used to crucify Jesus, it is a source of debate between theologians and historians. There are many other forms of a cross.

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A GEMMATA cross may have 5 stones representing the five wounds suffered by Jesus on the cross; or 13 gems representing Christ and the twelve Apostles.

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A ship portrayed with a mast like a cross represents a place of refuge and is acknowledged as the church. The Ark of Noah is a symbol of refuge and salvation.

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The cross encompassed within a circle is often found on altar tables. It is also used in processions to represent eternity.

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The IXTHOS cross is a combination of a Latin cross and a fish symbol. The Greek word for fish is an acronym for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” and secretly identified others of the faith during dangerous times of persecution.

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This symbol represents Peter, the apostle, who was crucified head down because he did not feel worthy to die in the same position as Jesus.

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The TAU cross is one of the oldest forms of a cross and is believed to have been held by Moses in the wilderness.

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The dove on this Tau cross is symbolic of the Holy Spirit.

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This cross form is created with four Tau crosses, each arm also resembling a crutch.

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Although a FORKED cross was known in the Middle Ages as a thief’s cross, it also represents the Holy Trinity and is symbolic of arms lifted in prayer.

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The ANKH, originally the Egyptian symbol for life, is shaped like the letter T surmounted by an oval or circle. It symbolizes eternal life; peace; and truth.

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CHI-RHO is an ancient Christian symbol representing the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ: χριστος – Chi (X) and Rho (P)

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This Chi Rho cross also displays letters of the Greek alphabet: Alpha (the first) and Omega (the last) are symbols representing the beginning and the end of all life.

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ST. ANDREW’S cross was named after the disciple Andrew who was crucified on a cross of this shape. It came into use during the Middle Ages.

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In the Greek language, the first letter of the word Jesus is I; and the first letter of Christ is X. When these symbols are combined this cross represents Jesus Christ.

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The SHEPHERD’s cross has a crooked apex and represents the Christian faith and Jesus’ role as the Good Shepherd.

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The MALTESE Cross has four arms of equal length ending in a “V” shape which creates eight points representing the Beatitudes.

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IHS

The Greek spelling of the name Jesus ‘IHCOYC’ is abbreviated as IHC; when translated into Latin as ‘IHSOUS’ the abbreviation is IHS.

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Both versions can be found although the latter abbreviation is the most common when engraved on gravestones. It is a symbol of the Holy Name of Jesus.

IHS is also an abbreviation of the Latin Phrase in hoc signo meaning, in this sign and is most often used when part of the anagram of the Latin phrase, In Hoc Signo Vinces meaning, in this sign you shall conquer. It is most often seen on family crests, military memorials and symbols of the Knights Templar.

 

 

Hourglass Symbolism

The hourglass is a classic symbol that measures time until the sand runs out. This is a perfect allegory for life and death.

The hourglass is often seen on gravestones in conjunction with a skull and crossed bones which is symbolic of crucifixion, death, and mortality.

Winged hourglasses signify the resurrection of the dead. It can also be indicative of ‘tempus fugit’ meaning time flies.

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A reclining hour glass does not allow the sand to pass indicating that time stopped prematurely. It is therefore symbolic of the death of a young person.

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The headstones below contain a winged hourglass, and the image of a snake eating its tail (called ouroboros) representing everlasting life.

In this last instance the hourglass symbol is an integral part of the membership badge of the American Institute of Industrial Engineers.

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Shells

Actual shell fragments left on gravestones in pioneer cemeteries represent the journey through death and rebirth. Shells that are not part of the gravestone were left there to signify that the deceased had not been forgotten.

In localities near the sea, entire graves were covered with shells because this product was cheap and readily available.

Although not a common symbol the shell most often used is a scallop shell which represents the baptism of Christ. Many baptismal fonts are often built in the form of a scallop shell.

It is also a traditional symbol of the Crusades.

This large scallop shell was designed by the deceased, Ransom Cook, some years before his death.

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The art form of a child cradled in a scallop shell was popular in North America during the 19th century. Sears, Roebuck and Company had a contract with a Vermont marble producer to sell the shell headstone by mail order.

The conch shell was revered by many cultures as a symbol of reincarnation and wisdom. In Buddhism, the shell’s call can awaken one from ignorance, in Chinese Buddhism it signifies a prosperous journey; and in Islam the shell represents hearing the divine word. People in the Bakongo area of Africa believe that the shell encloses the soul (Pagans also held this same belief regarding the shell as a source of life.)

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He Is My Rock

This unusual grave marker in the form of a rock symbolizes Christ (“He is my rock…” Psalm 92:15).

The two symbols carved into the rock signify that the deceased was a member of two fraternities.

  • The Masonic compass and set square are 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 three linked rings which signify the chains that bind the Fraternity are synonymous with the International Order of Oddfellows Fraternity (IOOF).

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The rock rests upon a stone base. A slate marker is engraved with two lines which share the same sentiments related in a poem by Robert Richardson.

Sleep Light Dear Heart
Sleep Light
Good Night
Good Night

The poem entitled Annette was published in 1893. The last lines of the poem by Robert Richardson reads

Warm summer sun, shine friendly here 
Warm western wind, blow kindly here; 
Green sod above, rest light, rest light, 
Good-night, Annette! 
Sweetheart, good-night!

Mark Twain also echoed these sentiments when he paraphrased the poem on the grave of his daughter, Olivia Susan Clemens.
Warm summer sun, shine kindly here;
Warm southern wind, blow softly here;
Green sod above, lie light, lie light –
Good night, dear heart, good night, good night.

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