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Symbol & Meaning

What some of the symbols mean: 

Symbolism and meaning in gravestone Art.


Angel - messenger between God & man; guide. Angel (flying) - rebirth; guardian angel. Angel (trumpeting) - call to the resurrection. Angel (weeping) - grief

Child sleeping - Victorian death motif

Death's head, winged - Mortality

Father Time - mortality, the grim reaper

Hand of God -  pointing downward - mortality, sudden death; Pointing upward - the reward of the righteous; confirmation of life after death.

Hands - devotion, prayer. Hands (shaking) - farewell to earthly existence. Hands (Blessing) - Jewish. Hands (clasped) - in death as in life, the devotion of these two is not destroyed

Trumpeters - Heralds of the resurrection. Trumpet - day of judgment; resurrection. Bugles,; the military profession

Woman, weeping - Mourning; recalls myth of Niobe, whom the gods turned to stone as she wept for her slain children


Fugit hora - "hours are fleeting", "time flies"

H.I.S. - hic iacet sepultus; Here lies buried

IHS - Monogram or symbol representing the Greek contraction of "Jesus": sometimes regarded as an abbreviation of the Latin phrase meaning "Jesus, Savior of Men"; or, in hoc salus There is safety in this.

INRI - often seen on a banner of latin cross: "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum". Latin for Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews (John 12:19)

laus Deo - "Praise be to God".

Memento Mori - "Remember death".

Tempus erat - "time is gone"; "time has run out".

XP - Chi Rho - first two Greek letters of the word "Christ".

RIP - Rest on Peace; requiescat in pace

FCL - Fraternity, Charity Loyalty, Daughters of Union Veterans ;Ladies of the Grand Army.

FLT, IOOF - Friendship, Love and Truth; Odd Fellow slogan sometimes with a three linked chain.


Alpha & Omega - first and last letters of the Greek alphabet symbolizing the beginning & end of all things, see Revelation 22:13

Anchor - hope, life eternal; may signify seafaring profession. Ancient Christian symbol.

Arch - triumph, victory in death

Ark - church; salvation

Arrow or Dart - martyrdom, mortality. Arrow (quiver) - warlike

Banner - victory; triumph

Bells - call to worship. Call to judgement. Day of reckoning.

Bibles - Resurrection through the scripture; the clergy

Book - Bible; wisdom. Books, stacked - knowledge

Branch - Severed - mortality. A life cut short.

Candle - (snuffed)  time, mortality; (flame) - life. Candlestick - Christ; devotion

Celtic cross - Circle on it symbolizes eternity. Spirals are ancient.

Chain (3 links) - Oddfellows lodge. 1819 and after.

Circle - eternity; or earth

Clouds - Divine abode.

Coats of Arms or Family Crests - Blazon; lineage, status

Coffins - Mortality. Arising from - Day of reckoning.

Column - Sorrow; broken life

Doors - Heavenly entrance

Crescent moon - Virgin

Cross - salvation. Cross (with crown at base) - salvation; christ redeemer. Cross (with rays of rising sun) - glory. Cross (with winding sheet) - descent from cross.

Crown - reward of faithful, victory, triumph, glory; righteousness; resurrection. Crown on cross - Sovereignty of Christ

Cup - Eucharist. Jewish - The Levite Cup; Member of the Levite tribe.

Drapery - sorrow; mourning

Flame - eternity

Fleur de lis - Virgin; Trinity ; French

Pyramid - Symbolic of death. Ancient Egyptian.

Rock - Steadfastness of Christ; stability

Scales - Weighing of souls; justice

Scroll - Law; Scriptures

Scythe - Time, the divine harvest.

Shell - Pilgrimage: baptism of Christ; usually scallop. Ancient Christian and Jewish.

Ship - The Church. Ships' profiles - The seafaring profession

Skeletons - Mortality, Death

Skull - Death; sin. Skull, winged - Flight of the soul from mortal man. Skulls and crossbones - Mortality

Sphinx - lion represents strength and protection; used to guard entrances. Ancient Egyptian symbol.

Star - Christ birth story; heaven.. Star (five pointed) - Star of Bethlehem; star of Jacob; divine guidance and protection. Star (five pointed pointing downward) - Order of the eastern star, wives of masons.. Star (six pointed) - the Father, Creation, heavenly wisdom, Star of David

Sun - God or Son of God.. Sun (setting) - Death; rest.. Sun (rising) - Resurrection; renewed life . Suns, moons and stars - Reward of the resurrection

Sword - Martyrdom; courage; warfare. Swords, crossed - High ranking military person

Three points, three leaves - Trinity , Trefoil

Torch - Inverted - Extinction of life; death; mourning; Upright - Immortality, liberty, upright life, the scholastic world, the betrayal of Christ

Urn - soul; mortality. Urn (draped) - death, sorrow

Winged wheel - Holy spirit, wheel of fate.


Flower - Brevity of earthly existence. Broken - premature death. Bellflower - gratitude. Easter lily - modern floweer symbolic of resurrection. Lily, lilies - resurrection, purity. Lotus - Egyptian water lily and ornament. Poppy - Symbolic of sleep, therefore, death. Roses - Condolonce, sorrow; the brevity of earthly existence; Tudor Rose - English descent

Bouquets - condolences, grief

Buds - renewal of life

Fruit - Eternal plenty. Fruit and vine - Jesus Christ; the Christian church

Gourds - Coming and passing away of all earthly matters.

Ivy - Abiding memory, friendship, fidelity

Tree - Faith; life; the Tree of Life. Felled - Mortality. Trunk - Premature death. Laurel - victory, triumph, glory. Willow - Grief; death (carried at Masonic funerals); earthly sorrow, Tree of human sadness, Nature's lament. Oak - supernatural power and strength; eternity. Olive - peace; healing faith. Yew - Immortality. Cedar - strong faith; length of days; success. Cypress - sorrow; death; eternal life, Roman symbol for mourning. Evergreens - Immortality

Palm - spiritual victory over death; martyrdom; reward of the righteous; peace; a plant whose leaves resemble a hand

Pineapple - Hospitality

Pomegranate - Immortality; resurrection; unity; nourishment of the soul

Sheaves of wheat - Time, the divine harvest

Thistle - Scottish descent; the inevitability of death, remembrance

Vine - Christian church; Christ; wine, the symbolic blood of Jesus; the sacraments

Wreath - Victory in death, indestructible crown worn by triumphant Christian; eternity. Wreath worn by skull - Victory of death over life


Birds - Souls; Flight of the soul back to God. Dove; peace; innocence; purity (7 doves = holy spirit); messenger of God carrying soul to heaven

Butterflies - Resurrection; Christian metamorphosis, Jewish; wings of angels.

Bull - Taurobolium, Ancient Mithra/Tammuz baptism by blood.

Fish - Christ; plentifulness; early Christian community

Hart or Stag - The faithful thirsting for God

Lamb - Christ; Redeemer; meekness: sacrifice; child; innocence; most common 19th century child's marker. Lamb with banner,  resurrection

Eagle (winged) - St. John, the Evangelist

Lion (winged) - St. Mark the Evangelist

Man (winged) - St. Matthew the Evangelist

Ox (winged) - St. Luke the Evangelist

Ram - sacrifice

Sheep & goats - Christians and non-believers

Snake - sin; Satan; fall of man; death. Snake (looping 8 shape) - Eternity. Snake (tail in mouth) - Eternity; unity





Some of the symbols:





Tell me about any others you know of!

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