The six-pointed star known as the Star of David was not adopted internationally until the late 19th century and has no actual symbolism.
Two Hebrew letters representing Po Nikbar translated as Here Is Buried may be found in the center of the star.
The following Hebrew letters are found inscribed on headstones to represent the phrase: May His/Her Soul Be Bound Up With The Bond Of Life.
A Menorah represents divine wisdom. The nine branch version is commonly recognized in association with Channukah and the miracle of a one day supply of lamp oil lasting nine days. The seven branch Menorah is more commonly found on gravestones and represents the seven days God created the world (Exodus:25).
The image of hands touching at thumbs with forefingers joined represents members of the priestly tribe of Aaron. It symbolizes a benediction or blessing by a Cohayn priest.
The last image depicts a Tzedakah box. In Judaism, Tzedakah refers to the religious obligation to do what is right and just, considered to be one of the three main acts that can annul a less than favorable heavenly decree.
The Sword is symbolic of courage; justice; martyrdom; military or warfare.
Rest my son in thy far off grave.
You died for your country like a hero brave.
In the days when the sword was a principle weapon of battle they were often regarded as magical objects with supernatural properties. Warrior tombs feature swords as a mark of the dead’s profession or as a sign that the deceased was cut down in battle. A broken sword represents a life cut short.
Crossed swords commemorate a high ranking military person; or a life lost in battle. They are often seen on the gravestones of veterans, especially officers.
- An inverted sword is symbolic of death in battle; a relinquishment of power; or victory.
- A sword within its sheath represents temperance.
- Archangels sometimes carry swords as a symbol of God’s Judgement in the life to come.
- A superstition predicts death if a sword falls from its scabbard.
- An oath made on a sword was as binding as one made on a Bible.
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. Genesis 3:19
These images show nature absorbing our bodies back into the earth, slowly eradicating the markers that record our existence.
Lord, plant my feel on higher ground.
While they lie in peaceful sleep
Their memory we will always keep.
Time passes, memories last.
Flower buds signify a renewal of life and many types of flowers are engraved on headstones. The symbolism behind the Carnation, Daffodil, Daisy, Passion Flower, Poppy, Sunflower and Tulip has been researched in a previous post.
The less commonly used flowers are identified below.
- Acacia represents the immortality of the soul
- Acanthus is one of the most common cemetery motifs associated with the Heavenly garden.
- A Bellflower is symbolic of gratitude
- A Buttercup represents cheerfulness
- The Cinquefoil is symbolic of a beloved daughter or maternal affection
- The Crocus represents youthful gladness
- The flower, Forget-Me-Not, represents remembrance
- The Honeysuckle is symbolic of devoted affection and generosity
- The Lalla is indicative of beauty and marriage
- The Lotus represents perfect beauty; purity; resurrection and spiritual revelation.
- A Pansy symbolizes humility; meditation; remembrance
- The Violet is a symbol of humility.
And lastly, a flower that seems to cover every aspect of life, the Morning Glory: birth; the brevity of life; departure; farewell; love; mortality; mourning; resurrection and youth. It is also a symbol of beauty.
Like budding Rose or flower of May
Grown up, cut down & wither’d in a day
Early she left this Stage in morning dress
Her hands were clasped upon her breast.
We kissed her loving brow
And in our aching hearts we know
We have no violet now. 1909
Death and grief are felt in the same way throughout the world regardless of religion or race. We are unified only in birth and death.
The statuary in cemeteries is matched only by the words on stone. This verse is from All Saints Churchyard in Newtown Lindford, England:
Dear Friends, but be content
For I to you was only lent.
In love I lived; in peace I died.
You asked my life but God denied.
Farewell, dear friends, and cease to weep.
In Christ I dwell; in Christ I sleep.
A woman clinging to the cross is a symbol of faith. It is often accompanied by the verse Rock Of Ages Cleft For Me signifying that a person’s only hope when lost in a sea of sin is to cling to Christ’s cross.
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Behold the pilgrim as he lies with glory in his view,
To Heaven he lifts his longing eyes and bids the world adieu. 1886
A woman holding a cross represents faith.
Such are as faithful in love shall abide with him.
One of the earliest gravestones I have seen can be found in the Copps Hill Burying Ground in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. It’s interesting to note that in order to keep within the design boundaries of this elaborate gravestone, the text has been scrunched together.
In the surname WALTERS, the letters L, T, E have been overlapped using the downward stroke of L to create T and E. The same process has been used in the word THIS where the downward stroke of T is shared by the letter H.
The inscription on the gravestone uses Old English text and translates as:
Here Lies Buried
The Body Of Captain
Aged 53 Years
Departed This Life
August The 13th
Above the winged effigy is the Latin phrase ‘Hodie Mihi Cras Tibi Sic Transit Gloria Mundi’ which translates as My Turn Today, Yours Tomorrow. And Thus Passes Away The Glory Of The World.
On a side note, this phrase is used in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander historical novel series when Claire visits the tombstone of Lady Sarah Fraser at Beauly Priory.