SYMBOLS ON GRAVESTONES AND THEIR INTERPRETATIONS
Collection from Barbara Rotundo, Laurel Gabeland Francis Duval with permission.


ANIMALS
Ant-Christian industry
Bats (rare)-the underworld
Bee-resurrection. risen Christ; chastity
Birds-souls
Birds, flying-flight of the soul back to God
Butterfly-resurrection; Christian metamorphosis
Chrysalis-Christian metamorphosis; resurrection
Cock-vigilance; St. Peter
Descending dove-holy ghost
Dove-peace; innocence; purity (7 doves-holy spirit); messenger of
God carrying soul to heaven
Eagle-fierceness; ascension: the heavenly conveyor, national
     emblem of the United States: the military professional,
     Civil War casualties
Eagle, winged-St. John, the Evangelist
Egg-regeneration
Fish-Christ; plentifulness
Fox-cruelty; cunning
Frog-resurrection
Hart-the faithful thirsting for God
Lamb-Christ; Redeemer; meekness: sacrifice; child; innocence;
     most common 19th century child's marker
Lamb with banner-resurrection
Lion-strength; courage; royalty; power; guardian; fallen hero
Lion, winged-St. Mark the Evangelist
Ox, winged-St. Luke the Evangelist
Peacock-immortality; eternity; resurrection; incorruptibility of
     the flesh
Pelican-feeds young with own blood; redemption through Christ
Phoenix-immortality; baptism
Ram-sacrifice
Rooster-the awakening from the fall from grace; repentance
Sheep & goats-Christians and non-believers
Serpent-symbol of death
Snake-sin; Satan; fall of man
Snake, hooped-eternity
Snake with tail in mouth-eternity; unity
Sphinx-lion represents strength and protection; used to guard
     entrances
Squirrel-Christian forethought; spiritual striving
Stag-same as hart

FIGURES
Angel-messenger between God & man; guide
Angel, flying-rebirth; guardian angel
Angel, trumpeting-call to the resurrection
Angel, weeping-grief
Breasts-the Divine, nourishing fluid of the soul (17th century);
     the church; the ministry; the nourishment of the soul
Child, sleeping-Victorian death motif
Death's head, winged-mortality
Effigies-the soul
Effigies, crowned-personal reward of righteousness
Effigies, winged-the flight of the soul
Father Time-mortality, the grim reaper
Four Evangelists-Matthew, winged man; Mark, winged lion; Luke,
     winged ox; John, winged eagle
Hand of God, pointing downward-mortality, sudden death
Hand of God, pointing upward-the reward of the righteous;
     confirmation of life after death
Hands-devotion, prayer
Handshakes-farewell to earthly existence
Hands clasped-in death as in life, the devotion of these two is
     not destroyed
Imps-figures, some winged, some not, doing funeral related tasks;
     mortality
Man, winged-St. Matthew the Evangelist
Trumpeters-heralds of the resurrection
Woman, weeping-mourning; recalls myth of Niobe, whom the gods
     turned to stone as she wept for her slain children

LATIN PHRASES
Fugit hora-"hours are fleeting", "time flies"
IHS-monogram or symbol representing the Greek contraction of
     "Jesus": sometimes regarded as an abbreviation of the Latin
     phrase meaning "Jesus, Savior of Men"
INRI-often seen on a banner of latin cross: "Iesus Nazarenus Rex
     Iudaeorum". Latin for Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews
     (John 12:19-22)
Memento mori-"remember death"
Tempus erat-"time is gone"; "time has run out"
XP-Chi Rho-first two Greek letters of the word "Christ"

THINGS
Alpha & Omega-first and last letters of the Greek alphabet
     symbolizing the beginning & end of all things, see
     Revelation 22:13
Anchor-hope, life eternal; may signify seafaring profession
Anvil-martyrdom
Arch-triumph, victory in death
Ark-church; salvation
Ark of Noah (rare)-refuge, salvation
Armor-protection from evil
Arrow-martyrdom, mortality
Arrow, quiver of-warlike
Banner-victory; triumph
Battle-axe-martyrdom
Bells-call to worship
Bibles-resurrection through the scripture; the clergy
Book-Bible; wisdom
Books, stacked-knowledge
Branch, severed-mortality
Bugles-resurrection; the military profession
Candle being snuffed-time, mortality
Candle flame-life
Candlestick-Christ; devotion
Celtic cross-circle on it symbolizes eternity
Circle-eternity; or earth
Clock, (rare)-passage of time, mortality
Clouds-the divine abode
Coats of arms and crests-lineage, status
Coffins-mortality
Column, broken-sorrow; broken life
Columns, doors-heavenly entrance
Crescent moon-Virgin
Cross-salvation
Cross with rays of rising sun-glory
Cross with winding sheet-descent from cross
Crown-reward of faithful, victory, triumph, glory; righteousness;
     resurrection
Crown on cross-sovereignty of Christ
Crozier-bishop
Cup-Eucharist
Darts-mortality, dart of death
Drapery over anything-sorrow; mourning
Field artillery (rare)-the military profession
Finger-pointing to heaven
Flame-eternity
Fleur-de-lis-Virgin; Trinity
Flyfot-swastika
Garlan
Portals-passageways to the eternal journey
Portraits-stylized likenesses of the deceased
Pyramid-symbolic of death
Rock-steadfastness of Christ; stability
Rosary-devotion to Mary
Scales-weighing of souls; justice
Scroll-the law; Scriptures
Scythe-time, the divine harvest
Shell-pilgrimage: baptism of Christ
Shell, scallop-pilgrim; pilgrim's journey; resurrection
Ship-the Church
Ships' profiles-the seafaring profession
Shrine-wisdom; knowledge
Skeletons-mortality, Death
Skull-death; sin
Skull, winged-flight of the soul from mortal man
Skulls and crossbones-mortality
Star-birth-life; Christ
Star, five pointed-Star of Bethlehem; star of Jacob; divine
     guidance and protection
Star, six pointed-the Father, Creation, heavenly wisdom
Sun-God or Son
Sun, setting-death
Sun, rising-resurrection; renewed life
Suns, moons and stars-the reward of the resurrection
Sword-martyrdom; courage; warfare
Swords, crossed-high ranking military person
Three points, three leaves, three of any thing-Trinity
Tombs-mortality
Torch-zeal; enlightenment
Torch, inverted-extinction of life; death; mourning
Torch, upright-immortality, liberty, upright life, the scholastic
     world, the betrayal of Christ
Trumpet-day of judgment; resurrection
Urn-soul; mortality
Urn, draped-death, sorrow
Winged wheel-holy spirit
Yoke-burden-bearing; service; patience

TREES AND PLANTS
Almond-favor from God; Virgin birth
Apple-sin; Eve
Bellflower-gratitude
Bouquets-condolences, grief
Buds-renewal of life
Cedar-strong faith; length of days; success
Cypress-sorrow; death; eternal life, Roman symbol for mourning
Easter lily-modern flower symbolic of resurrection
Evergreens-immortality
Flower-brevity of earthly existence, sorrow; certain flowers may
     symbolize emotions, particular aspirations, attitudes, both
     religious and secular
Flower, broken-premature death
Fruit-eternal plenty
Fruit and vine-Jesus Christ; the Christian church
Gourds-the coming to be and passing away of all earthly matters
Ivy-abiding memory, friendship, fidelity
Laurel-victory, triumph, glory
Lily, lilies-resurrection, purity
Lotus-Egyptian water lily and ornament
Oak-supernatural power and strength; eternity
Olive-peace; healing faith
Palm-spiritual victory over death; martyrdom; reward of the
     righteous; peace; a plant whose leaves resemble a hand
Pineapple-hospitality
Pomegranate-immortality; resurrection; unity; nourishment of the
     soul
Poppy-symbolic of sleep, therefore, death
Roses-condolonce, sorrow; the brevity of earthly existence; of
English descent--the Tudor rose
Sheaves of wheat-time, the divine harvest
Strawberry-righteousness; humility
Thistle-of Scottish descent; the inevitability of death,
     remembrance
Tree-faith; life; the Tree of Life
Tree, felled-mortality
Tree trunk, broken-premature death
Vine-Christian church; Christ; wine, the symbolic blood of Jesus;
     the sacraments
Wheat sheaves-the divine harvest
Willow, weeping-grief; death (carried at Masonic funerals);
     earthly sorrow, the symbolic tree of human sadness, Nature's
     lament
Wreath-victory in death, indestructible crown worn by triumphant
Christian; eternity
Wreath worn by skull-victory of death over life
Yew-immortality

 
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