Copyright © Janice Tracy, Cemeteries of Dancing Rabbit Creek.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Gravestones, Tombstones, and Their Symbols

Have you ever wondered why older gravestones seemed almost like works of art? It seems that most of the ornamentation was not just for art's sake, but was actually symbolic in nature. A great list of symbols and their meanings can be found at

Although there have been literally hundreds of tombstone designs and symbols over the years, here are a few examples from a book entitled "Interpreting our Heritage" by Freeman Tilden.

Anchor -May mean the deceased was a sailor or seaman, but it almost always meant hope

Angels - Tombstones bear angels of all shapes and sizes, but the many meanings of an angel include rebirth, protection, wisdom, mercy, divine love

Bird - Often the bird is a dove. Means eternal life, winged soul, spirituality

Chain with three links - Symbol for a member of the "Odd Fellows"; also means faith or trinity

Column - Commemorates a nobel life

Frog - A symbol for worldly pleasure or sin

Ivy - Denotes fidelity, attachment, undying affection

Poppies - Represent eternal sleep

Rope Circle - Simply means "for eternity"

Rose - A symbol for victory, pride, triumphant love, or purity. Often used for a young child's tombstone or for that of one's mother

Tree - Stands for life and knowledge.

Leaning Tree - A symbol of a short interrupted life; also a symbol for mourning

Urn - Classic symbol of immortality, death of the body and its return to dust

Wreath on Skull - Means victory of death over life

After you have read the list above, you will understand why I have mentioned to my family that although I really do love frogs, I don't want one on my headstone. I rather prefer an angel, or poppies, roses, or ivy. And always keep in mind, that a trek through an old cemetery and a look at old tombstones there, may help us piece together the puzzle not only of how those who went before us lived, but also how they died

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