Gravestone Symbols & Meaning

Oct 31, 2022

Home 9 cemetery 9 Gravestone Symbols & Meaning

While we wouldn’t want to walk in one alone at night, cemeteries are full of beautiful natural stone. You may have noticed that cemeteries have a variety of different headstones, comprised of different shapes, materials, and, of course, names. However, many headstones also have symbols that represent something about the person they’re for.

If you’ve ever wondered about the various symbols and designs that are engraved on headstones, here are the meanings of some common symbols :

Many gravestones hold religious symbols. The Seal of Solomon and the Star of David are symbols of the Jewish faith. The former is a five-pointed star and the latter is a six-pointed star. Also, in both Jewish and Christian cemeteries, doves represent peace, love, and hope.

There are many Christian symbols on gravestones, the most common one being the cross. Many versions of the cross exist, each representing something slightly different: the Celtic cross symbolizes eternity; the Latin cross is most commonly found among gravemarkers and is one of the oldest symbols of Christianity; the Eastern cross is used in Orthodox Christian religions; the Gothic Cross features floral details that represent the adult Christian; and the Ionic cross symbolizes everlasting love, salvation, and glory.

Angels are also a common Christian symbol on gravestones. Representing innocence, this marker is usually found on children’s gravestones. Angels more generally can be seen to signify spirituality, as the angels guard the graves of the faithful.

Certain Greek letters represent Jesus’ name in the Greek alphabet. The letters IHS are the first three letters of his name, and XP are the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ. The Greek letters alpha (A) and omega (Ω) are a Biblical reference to Jesus.

Anchors serve to symbolize many things. In Christianity, the anchor represents hope and the steadfast influence of Christ. They could also represent a life as a sailor or as a tribute to St. Nicholas who was the patron saint of seamen.

Books engraved on tombstones also serve many purposes. A book could be a reference to the Bible, and more specifically the Evangelists. Books also symbolize life as a scholar or as a writer.

Floral and botanical engravings have a multitude of symbolism. Specifically, flowers such as daisies and lilies of the valley represent innocence, purity, and virginity; roses symbolize love–and, furthermore, rose buds that are unopened or slightly opened symbolize life cut short; the passion flower represents the passion of Christ; and the sunflower symbolizes devotion to God. Trees also have myriad representations: palm trees represent victory over death and weeping willows represent sorrow or mourning. Other common botanical symbols are ivy, which symbolizes friendship; laurel leaves, which represent an evergreen memory left behind; and fern fronds, which signify humility and sincerity.

Hands can be depicted in many ways to represent different things. Hands that are clasped symbolize a departing from earthly existence or a unity, whether with God or with a spouse. Similarly, a handshake is a welcome to heavenly world. Hands pointing up symbolizes the ascent to heaven, whereas hands pointing down is seen as the hand of God reaching down from heaven.

Throughout these many centuries and locations, the first engraved imagery on gravestones was the non-religious symbol of “death’s head.” This non-religious symbol was used by the Boston Puritans to represent bodily death and spiritual rebirth. Since they didn’t believe in representing religious figures in human form, this symbol often took the shape of a skull decorated with wings and crossed bones. 

Cemeteries hold centuries worth of history. But gravestones carry more than just the names and dates of those who have passed. These stones represent the lives of individuals who have lived before us. So, if you find yourself on a cemetery tour this Halloween, you can spook the people around you with your knowledge about the ghosts that haunt the graveyard, and if you find yourself in need of someone to restore your natural stone back to its original beauty, call Boston Stone Restoration today! 

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