Sunday, April 13, 2008

Gravestone Symbology






One of my favorite pastimes is visiting old cemeteries, which is fortunate since we are surrounded by every type from small, forgotten boneyards to the grand Spring Grove Cemetery, which is where we visited this past weekend on a very gray day.

One of my areas of interest is gravestone symbology. I am fascinated by the hidden meanings on old tombstones and love to seek out examples of my favorites, which include Masonic symbols, weeping willow trees and most of all, apiaries.

There are several lists of symbols and their meanings I use on a regular basis. The first is here and the second is here. Grave Addiction is an excellent general interest site.

When I visited Perrysville Battlefield with my husband and parents, I purchased a booklet on Victorian mourning customs, which explained many traditions and symbols from the period when mourning was a lifestyle. If you notice, many gravestone symbols originate, or were popular, during this time period. Also of interest if you should ever pass through the area and are interested in Civil War history, there is a mass grave located near the visitor center. The area is surrounded by a fence with an impressive monument in the middle of the patch of land. I didn't linger there, as it was a very melancholy thought to have a mass grave underfoot.

When I look at old tombstones and their engravings, especially in contrast to a mass, nearly forgotten grave such as I mentioned above, it makes me realize how important a final tribute is. Seeing the thought and care put into summarizing a person's life in stone is quite amazing.

In many ways, gravestone symbology seems to be a lost art. With the exception of Masons, Knights of Columbus, IOOF, Eastern Star and other well-known but mysterious organizations, it seems that most people today opt for a simple tombstone with a last name and sometimes birth and death dates. Of course, angels and flowers still show up, as do modern interests such as motorcycles and cars, but there is little symbology; these are fairly straightforward tributes.

Pictures:
  1. Cut/broken tree branch=life cut short
  2. Masonic compass and level
  3. Wreath=heavenly joy
  4. Traditional weeping lady

1 comment:

Spidey said...

I think that's true. We, in the west want to hide death. So all of our funeral rights seems to be designed to get it over with and never have to thin, about it again.