Thursday, October 22, 2015

Thursday Thirteen 393: Graveyard Symbolism

Last week I shared some of the graves of prominent Madisonians buried at Forest Hill Cemetery. This week I thought I would share some of the common symbols found in cemetery art/grave markers. As with last week, these were all taken by me last fall at Forest Hill Cemetery.

A scroll can symbolize the scriptures, honor and commemoration,
or serve as a symbol of life and time. If both ends are rolled
up as they are here, it usually indicates a life unfolding like a scroll. 

Lambs are the saddest of images to find in a cemetery.
They are a symbol of innocence and usually denote
the grave of a young child. 

Draped Column: Columns symbolize mortality or a noble
 life. If the column is draped, it means a life cut short. 

Ivy symbolizes faithfulness, memory and undying friendship. 

Books denote faith and wisdom. This is actually a family
marker, on my paternal grandmother’s side. Due to time
and lichens, it is difficult to tell if there was a symbol or
something written on the book cover. 

Obelisks are one of the more popular shapes of grave markers 
from the late 1800's. Some may be only a few feet tall, while
 others soar towards the sky. An obelisk can symbolize
foundation or fatherhood, as well as rebirth, and are
often found in family plots, where the names of different
family members buried together may be inscribed on
different sides of the obelisk.

Here we have an open book, symbolizing the Book of Life. 
You’ll note also the Star of David for “divine protection,” 
and indicating a Jewish grave. Many of the markers in 
the Jewish section have Hebrew writing as well — 
some only a few words, while others are all in Hebrew.

Orbs also come in many different sizes, from a small sphere 
atop a grave marker, to a large sphere  that makes up the majority
of the marker as with the Tenney monument. An orb symbolizes
the soul or celestial body and the reward of resurrection. 

An arch symbolizes the passage to heaven. You'll
note also the urn on top, as with another photo below.  

Tree trunks or stumps often denote the graves of Woodmen of the
World members, but can also indicate a life cut short, as is the
case here. Annie and Lillie Ramsey both died young, at ages
two and five respectively. You’ll note also the scroll, or life unfolding. 

Oak leaves stand for longevity, 
meaning the deceased led a long life.  

Urns are also popular symbols found on graves,
 denoting the soul. It can be an actual urn, such as that 
of the Bunn grave pictured here, or etched 
onto the marker itself. You'll note also the columns. 

Clasped Hands indicate unity or farewell to an earthly
existence. They can also indicate that spouses have
been reunited in death.

LINKING TO: Thursday Thirteen


Shelley Munro said...

I found this very interesting. I've seen many of these symbols in cemeteries but didn't know what they all meant.

Lea said...

Very interesting!
Have a great day!

Mia Celeste said...

Thanks for the photos and thanks for explanations. I didn't know about many of these symbols. Very cool.

Heather said...

Shelley: Thanks, as you can tell I love cemeteries and am fascinated by the symbolism, particularly of older graves.

Thanks, Lea!

Mia: I had a feeling you might like this one. One of these days I need to get to the back sections of Forest Hill and see what I can find of interest there. :D

Alice Audrey said...

I can't believe I walked right by a lot of this and never noticed all the scrolls and books.

colleen said...

Fascinating. Some of those are new to me. I like the archway the best. Can't really tell the woodsman's ones are tree trunks. Your family one is fitting for you!

Ron. said...

Fascinating indeed. I'll be looking at gravestones with different eyes now. Thanks!

Heather said...

Alice: It's easy to miss some of the little details, especially on older, hard to read graves, or those set back a bit from the road. In the case of the book on the family grave marker, the book faces away from the road, so unless you walk around to the other side, you'd never know it was there.

Colleen: It is difficult to see the tree forms of those two older graves. The elements, especially in an area prone to constant thawing and freezing, are not kind to cemetery monuments. There are a lot of damaged ones here, as well -- victims of time and weather.

Ron: Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed this posting.

CountryDew said...

This was very interesting. I wonder if people today pay attention to such symbols or do you suppose they simply put what's pretty or to their liking on stones? I know when my mother died, I didn't give any thought to the symbolism of what we put on her stone.

Heather said...

Anita: A good question. I'm betting it's a mix. Some people don't care about anything more than name and dates, while others might give the topic deeper consideration.