For thousands of years, people have gone to elaborate lengths to commemorate the final resting place of their loved ones and honored leaders. And while much has changed over millenia, grave markers and monuments are still erected every day in much the same styles and materials. Stone tombs and monuments, bronze plaques, marble markers, and slate headstones have survived the ages as legacies to those that have gone before us.
Because of the history of grave markings, many symbols and traditions have been passed down throughout time. The significant of the glyphs and symbols often have multiple meanings which have changed from region to region and time to time. Let’s take a look at some of the symbols commonly found at grave sites in the United States and their meanings.
Alpha-Omega: The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet represent God as the beginning and the end.
Celtic Cross: A cross containing a circle was originally a pagan symbol but was later adopted by the Christian Church.
Endless Knot: Reincarnation
Cross and Crown: The Cross represents Christianity and the crown means victory.
The letters “I H S”, usually on a cross signify the first three letters of Jesus in the Greek language.
Six-pointed Star of David: Jewish
XP, Chi-Rho, the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ
Winged Globe: represents the Egyptian sun god Ra, and stands for “creator”
Triangle: An equilateral triangle represents the Christian Trinity
Shepard’s Crook: The staff with three links for Love, Friendship and Truth is the symbol of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows
Double-Headed Bird: Masonic symbol of power. Other Freemason symbols include crowns and multiple geometric shapes.
Bird: Eternal Life
Dove: Peace and purity. Also represents the Holy Spirit
Snake swallowing its tail: A symbol of eternity
Bellflower: Gratitude and constancy
Oak Leaves: Strength and Endurance
Ivy: Everlasting love
Artist Palette: Painter
Inverted Torch: A life extinguished
Oil Lamp: Wisdom
The Lyre: Musician
Urn and Drapery: Sorrow
Wreath: Symbol of victory
Winged Hourglass: “Time’s swift flight”
Crossed Torch and Sword: Life and Death, respectively.
All of these symbols can be found at the Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, NY. Images courtesy of the Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery.
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