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Acronyms on Gravestones

FUGIT HORA is a Latin phrase meaning “hours are fleeting” or “time flies”.

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TEMPUS EDAX RERUM translated from Latin means time, devourer of all things.
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I.H.S. There are several interpretations of this symbol which contain the superimposed letters of I, H and S.

  • They represent the Greek letters Iota (Ι), Eta (Η) and Sigma (Σ), which are the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek (Ihsus, or Ihcuc).
  • “In His Service” or “In this sign conquer”
  • In Hac Salus – safety in this (meaning the cross)
  • Iesus Hominum Salvator (Jesus Saviour of Men).
  • “In hoc signo”, Latin for “by this sign we conquer”, referring to the cross

I.N.R.I. is often placed on a banner above the cross. They represent the first four letters of the Latin words “Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum” meaning “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” According to John 19:19 (Bible), Pontius Pilate wrote this title, and had it placed above Christ on the cross. The sign was written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin.

O.S. These letters are displayed after the date, the acronym for’ Old Style’ refers to the Julian Calendar.

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R.I.P. The most well-known acronym, Rest in Peace

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TABLETS OF THE DECALOGUE Symbolizes the Ten Commandments on two joined tablets. It is text from the Bible given to Moses on Mount Sinai as a symbol of the Old Covenant.

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XP (CHRISMA) (CHI-RHO)

  • Chi-Rho is an ancient Christian symbol representing the Greek word for Christ – Chi (X) and Rho (P)
  • Chi-Rho symbol is also the origin of using the abbreviation Xmas for Christmas
  • The emblem came to Emperor Constantine in a dream and he used it as a military symbol. It is often seen on banners in religious processions. This symbol has been found on early Roman tombstones.

HEBREW Here Lies

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Greek Cross

A cross with four arms of equal length (crux quadrata) is known as a Greek cross. It is symbolic of the Church itself rather than Christ’s crucifixion. In non-traditional religions it represents the four elements: earth, air, fire and water.

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CROSS FIVE FOLD

Although a Greek cross does not represent the crucifixion, when five Greek crosses are displayed together, they symbolize the five wounds inflicted on Christ: nails in the hands and feet and a spear in his side. This cross was popular in the Crusader era.

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CROSS WITH THORNS

A circle superimposed on a Greek cross is representative of the crown of thorns placed on Christ’s head during the crucifixion.

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Floral Tributes

There are always bouquet of flowers in a cemetery. Even in the dead of winter with snow on the ground, flowers are visible etched into gravestones.

The Carnation (botanical name Dianthus is a derivation of two Latin words meaning flower of the Gods) is a traditional funeral flower in France and symbolizes love and death.

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The Daffodil symbolizes deep regard; the death of youth; and grace

The Daisy is usually found on the graves of young children. It represents gentleness; innocence; and purity of thought

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The Passion Flower symbolizes Christ’s passion represented in the lacy crown and the crown of thorns; the five stamens are the five wounds; and the 10 petals represent the 10 faithful Apostles

The Poppy symbolizes eternal sleep, death; peace; and rest

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The Sunflower is devotion to God.

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Tulips represent charity

 

A flower with a broken or severed stem indicates that the deceased died an untimely or premature death and is usually seen on a younger person’s gravestone.

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The Shepherd’s Monument

At Shugborough Hall in Colwich, Staffordshire, England, stands the 18th century Shepherd’s Monument, commissioned by Thomas Anson, paid for by his brother, Admiral George Anson, and fashioned by the Flemish sculptor Peter Scheemakers. It was erected to memorialize Lady Elizabeth York, wife of Admiral George Anson.

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The monument is set within a stone arch to create the illusion of an entrance to a cave. The woman accompanied by three shepherds is the Virgin Mary mourning the loss of her son. Two of the shepherds are point to a carving in Latin; Et In Arcadia Ego translated as ‘I am also in Arcadia’ or ‘I am, even in Arcadia’. The marble bas-relief is similar to Nicolas Poussin’s painting “The Shepherds of Arcadia” (Arcadia being Heaven) which depicts the adoration of the shepherds at the nativity.

Shepherd's Monument Shugborough

The Grade II historic building which was listed on 17 March 1953 contains ten engraved Roman letters: O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V. and D M which have become a source of mystery and controversy. Following Dan Brown’s 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code, a theory evolved that the engraving was a code which could reveal the location of the Holy Grail (the chalice in which the blood of Jesus was collected). This theory arose from the notion that members of the Anson family were in the Priory of Sion, the secret society widely regarded as the successor to the medieval Knights Templar.

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Below are several solutions that I personally find the most plausible. There are many more suggestions which involve removing letters or reading them backwards to arrive at a meaning. In reality, the inscription remains a mystery.

  • Orator ut ominia sunt vanitas ait vanitas vanitorum translated as VANITY OF VANITY SAITH THE PREACHER, ALL IS VANITY.
  • A Latin inscription written entirely in abbreviations translated as, IN ACCORDANCE WITH HIS VOW HER HUSBAND LAID TO REST THE BONES OF HIS BELOVED WIFE.
  • A love poem; Optima Uxoris Optima Sororis Viduus Amantissimus Vovit Virtutibus, translated as BEST WIFE, BEST SISTER, WIDOWER MOST LOVING VOWS VIRTUOUSLY.
  • Historian A. J. Morton has suggested that the first line of letters represent family initials on a memorial. The letters D and M on the second line are considered an abbreviation of the Latin Diis Manibus, DEDICATED TO THE SHADES which is a common inscription on Roman tombstones and monuments (shades was a term for spirits of the dead.)
  • The code has also been deciphered as OUT OF YOUR OWN SWEET VALE ALICIA VANISH VANITY TWIXT DEITY AND MAN, THOU SHEPHERDESS THE WAY (Alicia is a mythical shepherdess who kept her flock on one of the seven hills of Rome).

Lilies

Life is like a blooming flower, never meant to be permanent.

Flowers are one of the most commonly used symbols in cemeteries, and during the 17th century it was so popular that almost every flower had a symbolic meaning. One of the most popular cemetery flowers is the Lily. It symbolizes immortality, the restoration of innocence and purity after death.

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The first Lily appeared when Eve shed a tear after being banished from the Garden of Eden. As a Christian symbol it is also associated with the Virgin Mary and often found on the graves of women.

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There are many variations of the plant genus Lily. The flower known as the Easter Lily has become symbolic of Christ’s resurrection although there is no historical connection. It is also known as the Madonna Lily representing the Annunciation.

The opening blossom lovely was to view,
And to his parents promised comfort true.
Submissively their loss they do deplore,
And humbly bow unto Almighty power.

A Calla Lily symbolizes marriage.
Love transcends time until we meet again.

Have I told you today that I love you.

The Lily Of The Valley was used to honor Christ and symbolize that He is “the Rose of Sharon, and the Lily of the Valleys.” (Song of Solomon 2:1). It symbolizes Humility; Innocence; Purity; Rebirth; and the Return of happiness.

In France the Fleur De Lys, considered a stylized Lily, was a royal emblem. The three lobes represent the trinity and perfection.

The rare symbol of a Lily with a sword represents guilt and innocence. Christ, as the judge of the world, appeared with a sword and a Lily in his mouth.

Following the Fallen

We are in Normandy, France, to search for the grave of Albert Chenier, a Canadian soldier who gave his life in support of freedom. We know he died here, but little else.

We visit the Juno Beach Centre at Courseulles-Sur-Mer (a museum commemorating the Canadian liberation forces efforts, and a memorial to their lives.) We explain to the Guide that we have been searching the names on the memorial in the grounds for Albert Chenier who was injured upon landing and died several weeks later. He informs us that the names on the monuments are sponsored, and they do not represent all the Canadians who died there. He offers to search the website and returns within a few minutes with Albert’s regimental number and the cemetery in which he is interred, only a few minutes from this location: Beny-Sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Calvados, France.

The cemetery was created as a permanent resting place for Canadian soldiers who had been temporarily interred in smaller plots close to where they fell during World War II. It contains the remains of 9 sets of brothers, a record for a Second World War cemetery. There is also a special memorial erected to a soldier of the Canadian Infantry Corps who is known to have been buried in this cemetery, but the exact site of whose grave has not been located.

We leave behind Juno Beach, the giant crucifix that towers over the area offering both redemption and caution ‘lest we forget’; the remnants of the Atlantic Wall, the German bunkers and tunnels, and the many monuments to Canadian war heroes: one of which denotes the D-Day Officer’s order of the day:

‘When the ramp goes down get out fast. Go like a bat out of hell, get in close and take cover…
Don’t stop to help the wounded even if he is your buddy, the medics will take care of them…’

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Juno Beach

We follow directions to a large cemetery located in the middle of the open countryside where fine hedges decorate the entrance. The flanking registry buildings have platforms from which visitors can see the whole area, and they also house a tabernacle containing a guest book and a list of all the buried soldiers. Although 2048 headstones stretch out in pristine rows enclosed by pines and maples marking the dead of the 3rd Division and the graves of 15 airmen, it is a simple feat to find Albert’s grave thanks to the schematic of the cemetery.

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As is typical of war cemeteries in France, the French Government granted Canada a perpetual concession to the land occupied by the cemetery. Local school children tend the graves and each is marked by flowers. It is a humbling experience to be present in this hallowed place and to read the inscriptions on the graves of so many young men.

Grave Reference: IV. F. 5.
In Memory of Private Albert Charles Chenier
H/16803, South Saskatchewan Regiment, R.C.I.C.
He died of wounds in France on 15 August 1944 and is remembered with honour.

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A few verses recorded from the stones of the fallen:

Ever loving remembrance of our dearest and our best
Who gave his all so bravely
Peace, perfect peace – June 9, 1944.

He died for our freedom
May we be worthy of his supreme sacrifice.

Rest my son in thy far off grave
You died for your country like a hero brave.

Anatomy of a Cemetery

Did you know that early graves were seldom in the neat rows that we are used to seeing? Burials were haphazard. Families didn’t own plots and burial spaces were often reused. In many burial grounds graves face all four points on the compass. Sometimes a hilly site will have stones facing all four directions.

The north side of the cemetery was considered less desirable and was often the last part of the burying ground to be used. It was frequently set aside for slaves, servants, suicides, ‘Jane Does’ etc.

In cemeteries around the world, the vast majority of graves are oriented so that bodies lie with their heads to the West and their feet to the East. This very old custom appears to originate with the Pagan sun worshippers, but is also attributed to Christians who believe that the final summons to Judgment will come from the East. With their feet pointing toward the east the dead will be ready to rise up and be reborn.

In many Christian traditions, ordained clergy are traditionally buried in the opposite orientation, and their coffins carried likewise, so that at the General Resurrection they may rise facing, and ready to minister to the people.

Montmartre, Paris, France
Montmartre, Paris, France
Holy Cross. Colma, CA, USA
Holy Cross. Colma, CA, USA