01 November 2009

Grave Symbolism

I am often asked about the symbols on graves and what they mean, here are some of the common ones:

Anchor. Hope or at rest, an early Christian symbol.
Angel. The agent of God often pointing heavenwards also guardian of the dead. An angel has no navel. An angel holding up two fingers donates a member of the clergy buried beneath.
Bed. A deathbed sometimes only illustrated by a pillow.
Book. Symbolises faith.
Chair. Commonly known as a vacant chair left by the deceased. Usually a young woman.
Column. A broken column signifies mortality, the support of life being broken, most commonly used for a male and the death of the head of the family.
Crown. Sovereignty of the Lord.
Dove. The Holy Spirit or peace.
Feather. Wings and the assent to heaven.
Gates. The entrance into heaven.
Hands. When clasped this is a symbol of farewell.
Heart. The symbol for deepest heartfelt emotions.
Horse. Strength, courage or the swiftness of the passage of time.
Hourglass. The traditional symbol of Father Time who also carries a scythe.
Lamb. Usually found on the grave of a child, Agnus-Dei, the lamb of God.
Lamp. Immortality, knowledge of God.
Laurel. Fame. Often of a literary or artistic figure.
Lion. Courage, strength and the resurrection.
Obelisk. Eternal life from the Egyptian sun-worshipping symbol.
Phoenix. Christ's resurrection.
Rocks. The church or Christen steadfastness.
Rose. Associated with the Virgin Mary or paradise.
Scythe. Passage of time and death.
Ship. The Christian church symbolically carrying the faithful through the world.
Skull. Mortality.
Snake. With its tail in its mouth symbolises eternity.
Star. The symbol of divine guidance.
Water. A hand pouring water from a flagon may occur on Jewish tombs of the Levites whose duty in the synagogue is to pour water upon the hands of the priests.
Torch. Immortality, upturned means a life extinguished.
Urn. Draped and empty symbolises death.
Wheat. Fruitfulness harvested.
Willow. Grief and mourning.
Yew. On account of it's dark colour and its association with churchyards.

If there are any others you wish to know the meaning of please don’t hesitate to ask. I have also written an A-Z photo guide book on the subject.

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