The task of interpreting the symbols on a tombstone is a daunting one. Though most symbols engraved on a stone have a textbook meaning, it is possible that the particular item you find engraved on the tombstone is there simply because someone liked the look of it. The point is, many people who choose grave motifs have no idea that the ornamentation they select has meaning. What they do know is that they like the design and feel it is just somehow right.
At the same time, symbols can express ethnic identity, religious affiliation, association membership, or is simply a symbol of the time or community. A symbol that was commonly used in one area might mean something completely different in another area. Therefore, it is important to understand the history of the area or of the time.
During your visit to the cemetery, you may or may not be able to interpret the meaning of the symbol on gravestones. Either way, you will enjoy the inherent beauty and workmanship involved in carving these intricate designs. Cemetery engravings are art in the truest sense of the word. The stonecutter was an artist, and some of the sculptures you’ll find in cemeteries are as beautiful as art found in the finest museums. Have fun!
Angels – spirituality; guardian the tomb.
*Bible - a single Holy Bible is often found on Christian stones.
Chalice - the Sacraments.
Crescent - the deceased was probably a Muslim.
*Crown - the soul's achievement and the glory of life after death.
*Cross - an emblem of faith; empty cross represents resurrection
*Heart (Sacred) - refers to the suffering of Christ for our sins.
Menorah - an emblem of Judaism
*Star of David - international symbol of Judaism.
Arrow - mortality
*Broken column - the loss of the family head.
*Candle being snuffed - loss of life.
Coffin - mortality.
Figure with dart - mortality
Grim Reaper - Death
*Hourglass - Time has run out.
Scythe - an instrument of the harvest, death cuts us down.
Skull and or Skull/ Crossed Bones - Death.
Spade or Crossed Spade and Shovel - Death
Barber - bowl (for bleeding) & razor.
*Butcher - an axe, steel knife and cleaver.
*Farmer: - coulter (type of hoe), flail (threshing implement), swingletree (rod for beating flax), stalk of corn.
Gardener - rake & spade.
Mason - wedge & level
Mariner: - anchor, sextant & cross staff.
Merchant - scales
*Minister - Bible
Shoemaker - Leather cutter's knife, nippers, sole cutter & awl
Smith - crown, hammer & anvil
*Teacher - open book.
*Angel, flying or trumpeting - rebirth; resurrection.
*Bird or Flying Bird - eternal life, resurrection.
*Dove, Flying - Resurrection.
*Flame, Light, Lamp or Torch: - immortality of the spirit, resurrection.
*Garland or wreath – victory in death.
*Ivy – immortality; friendship
*Star - death could not overpower the Light of the Spirit that still shines in the darkness.
*Sun - light and warmth, renewed life and life everlasting.
*Trumpeters -- harbingers of the resurrection
*Urn - Immortality (The storing of the vital organs was of extreme importance to the ancient Egyptians who believed that life would be restored through the vital organs placed in the urn).
*Fruits -- Eternal plenty as in the fruit of life.
*Full-blown rose - The deceased died in the prime of life
*Laurel -- A symbol of worldly accomplishment and heroism.
*Lily - The virgins' flower and also the symbol of innocence and purity.
Morning Glory - Signifies the beginning of life
*Oak, oak leaves and acorn - power, authority or victory. Often seen on military tombs.
Palm Branch - victory and rejoicing
Poppy - eternal sleep.
*Roses - completion and the brevity of earthly existence.
Thistle - Deceased was of Scottish descent; remembrance
*Tree or Trees
• A tree stands for life.
• A sprouting tree stands for life everlasting.
• Tree trunk stands for the brevity of life.
• Stones shaped liked tree stumps usually signify that the deceased was a member of The Woodmen of the World ( provided funerals for indigent)
Weeping Willow - perpetual mourning; grief.
*Wheat strands or sheaves - the divine harvest.
*Broken ring -- The family circle has been severed.
*Cherub - innocence.
*Crossed swords - military person of high rank.
• Hand, Pointing Up - Pathway to heaven.
• Hands, Clasped - Farewells or the bond of marriage
• Hands, Praying - Asking God for Eternal life.
• Hands, Blessing - Blessing of those left behind.
*Harp - Praise to the God.
*Heart - Love. Two joined hearts on a stone mark a marriage,
*Stars and Stripes Around Eagle -- Eternal vigilance and liberty. Often seen on military markers.
*Urn with Flame -- Undying remembrance
*Butterfly - Short-life.
Dog - Implies a good master worthy of love.
*Dove - innocence and/ or peace.
*Lamb - usually marks the grave of a child and means innocence.
*Lion - the lion's eternal watch guards the tomb and stands for courage.
Rooster - awakening; resurrection.