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California Genealogy and History Archives

Cemetery Symbols

 

Cemetery symbols used by stone carvers and monument companies from the 1700s forward included traditional religious symbols as well as symbols borrowed from art and literature.
 
  • ANCHOR -- identified with Saint Nicholas, patron Saint of seaman and a Christian symbol for hope and steadfastness.
  • ANGELS -- angels of heaven, trumpeting they accompany the soul heavenward announcing arrival.
  • ARROWS -- fatal arrows sent by God.
  • BATS -- bats of the underworld.
  • BELLS -- tolling for the dead.
  • BIRD -- from earliest times, symbol of the soul; child's death.
  • BROKEN COLUMNS -- death.
  • CANDLES -- being snuffed out by death's imps.
  • CHERIBUM -- guardians of a sacred place, servants of God; divine wisdom or justice.
  • COCKS -- fall from grace and resurrection.
  • COFFIN -- coffins, skulls, pickaxe and spade -- tools and other objects associated with burial, reminders of our ultimate end.
  • CROWN -- glory and righteousness.
  • COBRA -- death (an Egyptian influence).
  • DEATH'S HEAD -- with soul effigy over mouth (early New England motif).
  • EYE -- divine wisdom.
  • FATHER TIME -- old man with a beard.
  • FLOWERS -- impermanence: CALLA LILY -- majestic beauty; DAISY -- youth; MORNING GLORY -- resurrection; LILY -- purity, chastity, flower of Virgin Mary; PANSY -- humility; ROSE/ROSETTE -- love; SHAMROCK -- Holy Trinity or Ireland; THISTLE -- the fall of man.
  • FRUIT -- fertility and abundance; GRAPES -- fertility and sacrifice.

Hint:  Did you know...that a block of Styrofoam will clean off moss
and soil debris from old tombstones and will not damage the stone?