Tag Archives: hourglass

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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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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Memento Mori

Memento Mori is a term used to describe funerary art. Gravestones will often display this Latin phrase which translated means, Remember You Will Die, which is more of a warning to the living rather than the deceased upon whose headstone it is engraved.

Creative Commons License. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/4358919924
Creative Commons License. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/4358919924

This gravestone is located in St. Cuthbert Churchyard, Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland. The natural patina is a result of moss growing in the damp climate with further erosion damage due to the extremes of the Scottish weather.

Erosion of the stone has obliterated much of the original inscription. The few words which are still legible state:
Who died 7th Feb
Aged 48 years
His children who
Also Thomas
Burgess

The symbols on this headstone represent several aspects of Memento Mori.

  • The winged effigy represents the deceased soul in flight.
  • The banner inscribed with the words Memento Mori is a reminder that death is unavoidable.
  • Skulls are a frequent feature on gravestones around the world appearing in various forms often with crossbones. It is a symbol of death, mortality, penitence, and sin.
  • Arched columns symbolize the passage to Heaven.
  • The drapes represent mourning and the partition between life and death.

Life is short, and shortly it will end;
Death comes quickly and respects no one,
Death destroys everything and takes pity on no one.
To death we are hastening, let us refrain from sinning.

In the second example the word Memento Mori is again visible. The reversed letter N is used. Although I have researched I can find no reason for the reversal. Many opinions offer illiteracy as a reason; however, it may simply be the letterform used during the period (e.g. the letters f, j, and v were used to represent s, i and u.)

Creative Commons License. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/4358905866/
Creative Commons License. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/4358905866/

Symbolism on this headstone represents the passage of time and the inevitability of death.
Bones: mortality and death
Hourglass: Passage of time
Rosettes: Brevity of earthly existence.

Death like an overflowing stream
Sweeps us away our life’s a dream
An empty tale a morning flowr,
Cut down and witherd in an hour. 1797

The third example once again denotes mortality and death with the symbols of the skull and bones.

Creative Commons License. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/4358903270

A skull represents death and mortality
A single bone is symbolic of death and decay.

Our life is ever on the wing
And death is ever nigh
The moment when our life begins
We all begin to die. 1791

Note: Did you notice that the skulls in the photos bear scars?

Sundials

Horizontal sundials are most commonly used on headstones to denote the passage of time.

Sundial
A circular plate with an object known as gnomon which has a thin rod or straight edge casts a shadow as the sun moves across the sky. The shadow edge aligns with hour markers which are spaced accordingly. As the sun moves from east to west, the shadows formed predict the time of the day. Roman numerals are commonly used to indicate the hour markers.
Winged hourglass

An hourglass flanked by wings is usually part of the design. The hourglass is the classic symbol for Time.  As the sand runs out, it symbolizes the fleetness of life. The accompaniment of wings may also signify the resurrection of the dead.

Man fleeth as it were a shadow. 1803

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I count none but sunny hours.

Jesse Haines was a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. Upon his retirement from the Cardinals, the organization presented him with a sundial, which was placed on his gravestone at Bethel Cemetery.

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O’er every hour that’s brightest
A shadow creeps
And he whose laugh is lightest
Full often weeps
O look we for the morrow
Which hath no night
When lost is every sorrow
In God’s own light.