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SYMBOLISM ON MONUMENTS


Whereas some people in the 17th and 18th centuries had little education, they were certainly well grounded in the scriptures and the catechism. Village schools had been set up from the times of the Reformation, so there were many people from humble homes who could read and knew the scriptures. The emblems of mortality and immortality were seldom used after the 18th century,but many other forms of symbolism were the stock-in-trade of 19th century monumental masons.




ACACIA 



Immortality of the soul.






ACANTHUS


Heavenly garden; one of the oldest cemetery motifs, acanthus is associated with the rocky ground where the most ancient Greek cemeteries were placed.



AGNUS DEI 



See Lamb



AMORINI



See Putti.




ANCHOR



Hope, security, or ‘At Rest’ See: Hebrews 6, 19. If held by a female figure, Hope. One of the seven Christian Virtues of Wisdom,Fortitude, Temperance, Justice, Faith, Hope and Charity.





ANGEL



The messenger of God, often depicted pointing heavenward: also guardian of the living and the dead. If shown with a trumpet, indicative of the approach of God.   





ANGEL OF DEATH



Rare, and shown as a putto (qv), with dart and/or hour-glass,and/or scales. It may have wings




ANGEL OF THE RESURRECTION



Clad in loose robes, standing trumpet in hand, or flying through the air, feet bare, knees bent.




ANGEL’S HEAD



Usually winged, symbolises resurrection and the metamorphosis of the soul




ANKH

Eternal life, peace and truth


ARCH 

Victory in death, being joined with partner in heaven



ARK



Symbolic of the Church, since in the Ark all living things find refuge.



ARROW

The 'dart of death'



AXE



Weapon of death.



AZALEA 

Temperance



BAMBOO  



The emblem of Buddha. The seven-knotted bamboo denotes the seven degrees of initiation and invocation in Buddhism. On Japanese memorials, symbolic of devotion and truthfulness.  



BAYLEAVES 

Victory over death.



BED



A deathbed, sometimes depicted as merely a pillow.




BEEHIVE 



Symbolic of industry, for a community of those whose work is beneficial to all. Also of domestic virtues, education, faith, abundance in the Promised Land




BELL



The Dead Bell was rung to give notice of funerals, and at the funeral itself. Depicted as a small hand bell, it was a favourite emblem in Northern England and Scotland.




BELL & BRAZIER



A bell founder.




BIBLICAL SCENES  



A number of Biblical scenes appear as low reliefs on tombstones, the more  frequent being those of the Resurrection, the Day of Judgment, the Sacrifice of Isaac, the Good Samaritan, Christ and the Samarian Woman, Noli Me Tangere, the Agony on the Garden and the Flight  into Egypt.     



BIRD 

Eternal Life; a 'winged soul'


BIRD IN FLIGHT 

Rebirth



BOOK


The ‘Book of Life’,i.e.the Bible; a cross lying upon it symbolises Faith. See: Philippians 4, 3 and Revelation 3,5.   If held  by a female figure, Wisdom. One of the seven Christian Virtues of Wisdom, Fortitude, Temperance, Justice, Faith, Hope and Charity. 




BONES



In the 17th century the death's head was often accompanied by crossed bones. However, by the 18th century there were many more variations, including such items as jaw bones. The bones were sometimes shown as trophies or suspended on ribbons.




BOW & ARROWS



Weapon of death.



BROKEN COLUMN

See Column, broken



BUTTERCUP 



Cheerfulness.




BUTTERFLY



Resurrection; as the butterfly emerges from the pupae so too will our souls emerge from our bodies and soar upwards towards Heaven.




CADAVER



 Mortality. See  Corpse




CADUCEUS



Wand entwined with snake sand surmounted by a dove, carried by Mercury. A Familiar emblem on the tombs of those of the medical professions.




CANDLE 



Either alight or extinguished, symbolises the imminence of death.



CATERPILLAR

Metamorphosis to a new life


CHAIN 

If of three links, an association with the Odd Fellows



CHALICE



The most familiar symbol for a priest, usually shown with its paten.



CHARITY 

Shown as a female figure succouring, or with, children.



CHERUB



A winged child of indeterminate sex.



CHERUB SLEEPING

Innocence


CHRISTMAS ROSE  

Cheerfulness



CINQUEFOIL



Maternal affection; beloved daughter.




CIRCLE



Eternity, often incorporated into the Celtic cross or shown as a snake.



CLEMATIS 

Skillfulness



CLOCK DIAL



The passage of time.



COCKEREL 

Awakening to a new life, i.e. resurrection



COFFIN



The shape is realistic and is normally recognisable. In the 17th century the device was often placed in a row of emblems or occasionally appeared as a sole emblem.




COLUMN 



The support of life. If held  by a female figure,Temperance. One of the seven Christian Virtues of Wisdom, Fortitude,Temperance, Justice, Faith, Hope and Charity.




COLUMN, BROKEN



The broken column traditionally signifies mortality, the support of life being broken.  



COMPASS &SET-SQUARE

Masonic symbols


CORNUCOPIA 



Symbolises abundance.




CORPSE



The corpse usually appears in a winding-sheet or lying in, or rising from a coffin.




CROCUS



Youthful gladness.




CROSS



Has several meanings, such as the symbol of The Supreme Sacrifice and of the Christian religion   If held  by a female figure, Faith. One of the seven Christian Virtues of Wisdom, Fortitude, Temperance, Justice, Faith, Hope and Charity.




CROWN  



Emblem of the Christian martyr, and of the ‘Crown of Life’,the reward for those who stayed faithful until death. See:  1 Corinthians 9:24-27, James 1, 12 and Revelation 2, 10.





CROWN OF THORNS



Symbol of suffering, based on the crown plaited by the soldiers and imposed upon Jesus during his trial before Pontius Pilate.



CROWNED SKULL

Triumph of death



CROZIER



see Pastoral Staff.




CYPRESS TREE  



Mourning and death on account of its dark colour, and because once cut down it will not grow again. Also a symbol of Hope




DAFFODIL



Regard; death of youth; desire; art; grace.



DAISY



Innocence of childhood; Jesus the Infant Youth, Son of Righteousness.




DART



A weapon of death




DEAD LEAVES



Sadness; melancholy.




DEATH BED SCENE



Death bed scenes on headstones are usually simple, the deceased shown in a box-like bed sometimes with curtains



 DOLPHIN 

Resurrection,salvation, bearer of souls across the water.


 DOOR 

Entrance to Heaven;also, entrance to the heart.



DOVE 



The Holy Spirit, also for peace, innocence, purity and love




DRAGON 

Eternity


DRAPERY 

See  Urn



EAGLE 



Strength and endurance. Also the symbol of St John the Evangelist




EFFIGY 



The sleep of death


EYE 

Humility; also emblematic of the deceased watching over the living


EYE OF HORUS/RA

Life and death (Horus),Sun and Moon (Ra); protection against evil



FATHER TIME



Known in ancient mythology as Chronos. With hisscythe, symbolic of gathering in those whose hour to depart has come. Portrayed standing, stalking or seated with elbow on hour-glass. In some scenes he is shown together with the Skeleton, the King of Terrorsto two ready for action





FEMALE FIGURES



Other than sculptural representations of Our Lady, see Psyche.




FEMALE FIGURES with CHILDREN

Charity. One of the seven Christian Virtues of Wisdom, Fortitude, Temperance, Justice, Faith, Hope and Charity.


FINGER

Pointing down: calling the Earth to witness. Pointing up: indicates that the deceased is now in heaven



FIR CONES



Ancient symbol of fertility




FISH 



A symbol of Christ used by the early Christians re story of Feeding the 5,000.



FLAG

Patriotism or military supremacy



FLEUR-DE-LYS



Our Lady; passion; ardour; mother.



FLOWER

Frailty or brevity of life


FOO DOG 

Almost entirely restricted to monuments to those of the Chinese community, being one of the four animals of power, energy and bravery.


FROG 

Worldy pleasure, i.e.sin



GARBE



The heraldic term for the sheaf of corn. Common feature on headstones to farmers.  Also associated with the bread of the Last Supper   




GARLAND



A wreath of flowers, for remembrance. Also victory over death




GATES 



The entry into Heaven.




GLORY OF GOD



Depicted by clouds, sun, sunrays, trumpets and more simply by a sunburst.




GRAPES



Sacrifice; immortality.



HAIR FLOWING

Penitence



HAMMER



If shown with pincers, indicative of a smith.




HAND/S  


As an admonitory finger a pointer to Heaven, with a heart as an emblem of Charity, when clasped as a symbol of brotherly love, fareell or reunity. On Jewish tombs, two outstretched hands with the thumbs touching symbolises a descendant of Aaron, the High Priest (nearly all named Cohen).




HAND BELL



See Bell



HARE-BELL

Tenderness


HARP 

 Instrument of the angels; divine/heavenly music



HEART



Divine love and devotion. When flaming, the fire of Divine Love



HEART, PIERCED 

When pierced by as word, indicative of the Virgin Mary's sorrow


HELMET 

Military service;also occasionally used on monuments to firemen and policemen. 



HOLLY



Symbolic of the Crown of Thorns




HORSE



Strength, courage or the swiftness of the passage of time.



HORSESHOE

Protection against evil



HOURGLASS



The ‘sands of time’; passage of time, mortality and death;also a symbol of Father Time. Portrayed either in a vertical or horizontal position. Sometimes a flaming hour-glass was carved to represent eternity.



HOURGLASS,

WINGED 

Passage of life/time


HYACINTH

Truth and hope



IHS



First three letters (Iota, Heta, Sigma) of the Greek spelling of Jesus. Also In Hoc Salus (‘In this cross, Salvation’) and In HocSigno (‘In this Sign  [ye shall conquer]’).





IRIS



Light and hope.




IVY 



The evergreen, symbolising immortality, everlasting life or friendship.



LABYRINTH



In popular usage, symbolises eternity; used in esoterictradition to represent the inward path.




LAMB



The Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God. Signifies innocence, often used on infants’ and children's graves. See: John 1, 29 and Revelation 5, 6-14.




LAMP



Immortality, knowledge of God. See: 2 Samuel 22, 29 and Psalm 119, 105.  




LANCE



Weapon of death




LAUREL 



Fame or Victory, often of a literary or artistic figure.




LILY



Symbol of Our Lady, of the Easter resurrection and of chastity, innocence and purity.



LILY of the VALLEY

Rebirth



LION



Courage, strength and the Resurrection (tradition being that the lion’s whelp is born dead and remains so for three days until its father breathes on it).  Also the symbol of St Mark.



LOTUS

Purity,perfect beauty, spiritual revelation.



MALE FIGURES



The commonest male representations – apart from that of Our Lord - are of Eros, carrying or resting of a reversed torch, Thanatos,shown as a young man leaning against a tree trunk and lowering his lighted torch towards a small altar, and Hypnos, the son of Night, often standing next to Thanatos with more gracious mien. If winged, the symbol of St Matthew the Evangelist.     



MALLET & CHISEL



Symbolic of a joiner.



MENORAH

Divine wisdom



MILITARY EMBLEM



A soldier.






MIRROR



Symbolises truth and knowledge, may also possibly refer to 1 Cor. 13:12,

‘For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face etc


MISTLETOE

Immortality



MITRE 



Symbol of episcopal status.



MOON

Rebirth



NEPTUNE



With trident, anchor and accompanying puffing-cherub representing Wind, usually found on mariners' tombstones  




OAK LEAVES



Hospitality; strength, honour; eternity; endurance; liberty.




OAK TREE



Temporal human strength, and the male head of the family. 




OBELISK



Eternal life, from the Egyptian sun-worshipping symbol




OLIVE BRANCH



Peace, harmony and healing. If in a dove’s beak, a symbol of refuge.



OPEN GATES

Entrance to heaven


ORB

Faith


OWL

Wisdom



PALM



Triumph of a martyr over death.



PANSY

Remembrance, meditation



PASSION FLOWER


Christ’s passion, sacrifice and redemption. The five petals and sepals representing the ten Apostles (Peter and Judas are omitted),the five anthers the Wounds of Christ, the tendrils the scourges, hammers, the three stigmas the nails and the filaments within the flower the Crown of Thorns.



PASTORAL STAFF 



The standard symbol for a bishop.




PEACOCK


Early symbol of resurrection; when the peacock sheds its feathers, he grows  a more brilliant one than that which he lost.



PELICAN  



Piety and atonement. The pelican was believed to draw blood from its breast to nourish its young.



PEONY

Honour, love or affection


PHEASANT

Beauty and good fortune



PHOENIX 



Christ’s resurrection. A mythical bird which at death bursts into flame but rises to immortal life from its own ashes.




PICK



The sexton's tool, symbolising mortality.




PILLOW



Symbolising the deathbed.




PINEAPPLE



Symbolises fertility.



PINK

Genius


POPPIES

Sleep; usually associated with WWI military death, i.e. poppies in Flanders Field



POPPY HEADS



Sleep




PLOUGH



Symbolic of a farmer.



PRAYING HANDS

see Hands



PSYCHE



Love.




PUTTI 



A wingless pot-bellied naked infant, usually male, cherubic in origin.



PYRAMID

Eternal life,enlightenment and spiritual attainment



RAKE & SPADE  



 A gardener.



RAINBOW

Fulfilment of the promise of resurrection


RIFLE

Military service



ROCKS



Solidarity, strength, the Church, or steadfastness of the Christian faith.



ROD or STAFF

Comfort to the bereaved



ROPE



Symbolic of betrayal or arrest, after the rope used to bind Jesus following  His arrest.




ROSE 



Sinless, innocence, a paragon, one without peer, usually associated with Our Lady (the Rosa Mystica of the Garden of the Saints) or Paradise.



ROSEBUDS



Strong bond between two people, usually children or mother and child.



ROSEMARY

Remembrance



SCALES



Weighing the soul on the day of Judgment

If held by a blindfolded female figure, Justice, being one of the seven Christian Virtues of Wisdom, Fortitude, Temperance, Justice, Faith, Hope and Charity



SCALLOP SHELL

Birth, baptism,everlasting life


SCARAB

Transcendence


SCEPTRE

Fortitude



SCISSORS & GLOVE



Emblematic of a glover




SCYTHE


The passage of time and death.

If held by a  female figure, Fortitude, being one of the seven Christian Virtues of Wisdom, Fortitude, Temperance, Justice, Faith, Hope and Charity



SET-SQUARE  & COMPASS 



Masonic insignia.


SHAMROCK

The Trinity. Also emblematic of Irish descent


SHEATH of WHEAT

Abundant life or final harvest



SHEARS



Symbolic of a lady, or of the wife or daughter of a wool stapler or clothier, or of a sheep farmer.



SHELL

Pilgrimage. The badge of those who travelled to Santiago da Compostella


SHEPHERD'S CROOK

Charity



SHIP



The Christian Church, carrying the faithful through the world.




SICKLE



see Scythe.





SKELETON



Death. Frequently shown carrying a scythe, since death is the cutting of  this life, or with an hourglass, the symbol of the passing of time, or with a dart/spear. Sometimes depicted as lying down or on a bed or in a hammock like object. When portrayed standing(with the weapons of death, the dart, spear, scythe or lance) it is the personification of death, the King of Terrors. Anatomical details are carved according to the mason's skill and knowledge.



SKULL


Death of mortality. On 17th century monuments, usually portrayed either in partial profile or facing front or above or on crossed bones. The 18th century masons carved the skull in many ways:with or without lower jaw, full face, three quarter or half profile, noses triangular, U-shaped, heart-shaped; eye sockets deep or shallow, large or small.






SKULL, CROWNED

Triumph over Death



SKULL, WINGED



Death or mortality; more commonly found on 17th century headstones. Also symbolises flight of the soul from mortal man.



SNAIL

Laziness



SNAKE



With its tail in its mouth, symbolises eternity. With apples or with a tress symbolic of the Fall of Man


SPADE & PICK

The sexton's tools,symbolising mortality



SPADE & TURF CUTTER



The sexton’s tools; the latter has a triangular blade. Very often the two tools are crossed



SPIDER'S WEB

Human frailty


SQUARE &AXE

A stonemason.


STAFF or ROD

Comfort to the bereaved



STAR



Divine guidance




STAR OF DAVID



Fraternity; also a Masonic insignia.



SUN -RISING

Renewed life, i.e. resurrection


SUN - SETTING

Death


SUN - SHINING

Everlasting life



SUNDIAL



The passage of time.




SWORD



Justice, constancy or fortitude. Part of the Armour of God’. See: Ephesians 6, 10-18.



SWORD - BROKEN

Life (usually a military one) cut short


SWORD -INVERTED

Relinquishment of power, i.e. victory


SWORD -SHEATHED

Temperance


TETRAGAMMATON

Four Hebrew letters -Y, H, W. E - spelling  the true name of God


THISTLE

Earthly sorrow. Also indicative of Scottish descent



TORCH



Taken from a Greek emblem. Symbolised immortality; if upturned, symbolises life extinguished





TOWER



Strength.




TREE



Regeneration and immortality.




TREE WITH LOPPED BRANCHES

Life cut short


TRIANGLE

Holy Trinity. Sometimes also used as a Masonic device



TRIQUETA



Three interlocking circles or triangles: the Holy Trinity,eternity



TRUMPET

Announcement of the soul's entry into Heaven; resurrection


TULIP

Honour



URN



Draped and empty, symbolises death, derived from classical cinerary urns; if flaming, indicates new life.







VENUS



See Psyche



VIRTUES

The Seven Christian Virtues (shown as female figures with their attributes) comprising the Four Cardinal Virtues of Wisdom (Book), Fortitude (Scythe), Temperance(Column) and Justice (Blindfolded with Scales); and the Three Theological Virtues of Faith (Cross), Hope (Anchor) and Charity (with children or child)



WATER



Symbolises life; 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.




WEEPERS



Usually shown in full relief on the top slopes of the headstone, and in the form of putti




WHEAT 



The Bread of Life; fruitfulness harvested; bounty.



WHEEL

The 'Circle of Life'



WILLOW 



Grief and mourning. Folklore held that the willow dispelled evil, purified, and facilitated contact with the spiritual world



WINGED FACE

A cherub



WINGED MAN



See: Male Figures.



WINGED OX

Symbol of St Luke the Evangelist.



WINGED SOUL


Member of the elect, the soul being received straight into heaven




WINGS 



Divine mission, thus angels and cherubim are depicted with wings.




WREATH



Eternal life, victory.





YEW 



Mourning, on account of its dark colour and association with churchyards







©Julian W S Litten     April 2004-November 2010





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