Category Archives: Symbolism

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.

Male_lacarmina
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.

female_greek

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

female winged_alter friedhof
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.

reuters
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.

wikipedia
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.

1stpauls_hopebell
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.

dday center
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

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.

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.

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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