~ Alphabetical List of Graveyard Symbols and their Meanings ~
Angels - Sometimes confused with soul effigies, they represent the heavenly host and are often seen leading the soul towards heaven as seen in the Elizabeth Bartlett stone (figure 1) from Plymouth, Massachusetts and the Seth Paine stone (figure 2) from Barnstable, Massachusetts.
Figure 1 Figure2
Architectural Symbols - Because death is thought of as the gateway to heaven the use of an archway symbolizes the passage through which the soul will travel. The Captain Charles Billings stone (figure 3) from Norwich, Connecticut, shows an archway within an archway of stone pillars. Sometime it is simply the stone itself that is carved like an arch or it may be carved into the stone itself. Sometimes the stone may be adorned with pillars, draperies or other such devices used to indicate an archway as in the Tanney Crombie stone (figure 4) found in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Figure 3 Figure 4
Arrows or Darts - Arrows or darts were often used in gravestone carvings and it has been suggested that these represented the "dart of death" as seen in the Sarah Christophers stone (figure 5 below) referring to the threat of attack by Indians.
Bible or Opened Book - A bible opened to a page of scripture or an opened book was used to represent the word through which one gains revelation.
Cocks and Peacocks - Because Saint Peter was awakened from his fall from grace by the crowing of the cock (Bible Luke 22:34) the cock or peacock was used to symbolize both the fall from grace and repentance. The cock is shown on the Roswell Ensworth stone (Figure 6 below) found in Canterbury, Connecticut.
Coffins and Urns - Coffins and urns are used to symbolize the death of the flesh as in the Betsy Shaw stone (figure 7) found in Salem, Massachusetts, and are usually used in conjunction with a body or soul effigy.
Crowns - These seem to be especially popular along the Connecticut River Valley and they represent the crown of righteousness used to proclaim the victorious soul arisen to heaven through Christ. The stones of Edward Crandall (figure 8) found in Windham, Connecticut, is adorned with a crown above the head of the soul effigy.
Figure 6 Figure 7
Death and Father Time - These two figures are often found supporting each other on the same stone as in the Timothy Lindall stone (figure 9) from Salem, Massachusetts and have a long standing tradition. On occasion they are even found struggling over the lighted candle of life.
The Dove or the Bird - The dove or the bird is used as the symbol of Christian constancy or devotion. The stone of Abigail Reynold (figure 10) found in Norwichtown, Connecticut shows a dove as the only figure indicating a deeply devoted Christian.
Flames Arising from the Top of an Urn - The flame represents the soul arising out of the ashes of death. The stone of Joel Scarborough (figure 11) below depicts a woman standing in morning over a flaming urn under a weeping willow tree. This stone was found in Brooklyn, Connecticut.
Figure 9 Figure 10
Flowers - Since the time of Christ, flowers have represented the life of Man, symbolizing the brevity and the beauty of his life. The Mary Francis Caesar stone (figure 12) of Brooklyn, Connecticut depicts a cut flower hanging upside-down, symbolizing her life being cut down in death. Sometime it is seen with a scythe cutting down the flower but it is usually seen broken in half.
Geometric Rosettes - The rosette is almost always used in conjunction with soul effigies. The most popular is the six sided rosette which seems to have replaced the soul effigy altogether. The Lucy Strong stone (figure 13 below) found in Brooklyn, Connecticut, is a fine example of the six sided rosette pattern.
Gourds - The gourd was poplar in the seventeenth and eighteenth century and was used to symbolize the coming to be and the passing away of earthly life. Sometimes gourds were used under soul effigies in fruit columns and are nearly indistinguishable from women's breasts (figure 14) as seen in the Elizabeth Huntington stone, found in Norwichtown, Connecticut.
Figure 12 Figure 13
Grapevines or Vines - Churches are said to be the vineyards and the congregations are said to be the vines. The grapevine is the emblem of Christ as seen in the Jeremiah Scarborough stone (figure 15) of Brooklyn, Connecticut. Sometime we see soul effigies sucking the ends of grapevines, partaking of wine was a major Puritan symbol representing the covenant between God and man through the death of Christ. A bird sitting on a vine eating grapes may mean the soul is partaking celestial food.
The Heart - The heart is the symbol of the soul in heavenly bliss, the heart is always used in opposition to some symbol of death such as the urn as seen in the Mary Adams stone (figure 16) from South Canterbury, Connecticut.
The Heart in the Mouth of a Death's-Head - This symbolizes the triumphant soul emerging from death.
Heavenly Bodies - the Sun, the Moon, Stars and Sun - They may simply represent heavenly bodies or be used to symbolize the rising of the soul to heaven. The half sun as seen in the Sarah Tyler stone (figure 46) found in Brooklyn, Connecticut, symbolizes the setting or end of earthly life and the rising or beginning of heavenly life.
Figure 15 Figure 16
Hourglass - Sometimes the hourglass is seen with wings and represents the swift passage of time. The Lindale Children stone (figure 18) of Plymouth, Massachusetts combines the winged death's-head and the hourglass.
The Imps of Death - The imps are said to have been used mainly by the Lamsom family of stone carvers and were used to represent the triumph of death. They are sometimes armed with arrows of death or are lowering the coffin into the grave.
Portraits - Sometimes it's a facial portrait as in the Patience Watson stone (figure 19) found in Plymouth, Massachusetts and sometimes its a portrait borne upward with wings. These may be considered a form of the soul effigy in some cases or the deceased persons station in life.
Profile Soul Effigy in the Mouth of the Death's-Head - Another symbol of the soul rising triumphantly out of death.
Scallop Shell - This is considered the traditional symbol of the pilgrim's crusade and of mans earthly pilgrimage. The Thomas Faunce stone (figure 20) from Plymouth, Massachusetts, depicts the shell above the skeleton with a scythe.
Scythe - This symbol is usually seen in the hands of father time and is used to represent the cutting short of a mans life. See figure 20.
Figure 18 Figure 19
Station-in Life Symbol - These symbols would be used to represent the rank or occupation of the deceased. They could be either coats of arms as in the Gulden (figure 21 ) or the Gardine (figure 22) stones from New London, Connecticut or a military insignia like the Issac Perkins stone from Brooklyn, Connecticut (figure 23) or ships like the Captain Charles Holmes stone (figure 24) from Plymouth, Massachusetts, tools, musical instruments or in the case of preachers – collars see figure 25, Pastor Soloman Pain.
Figure 21 Figure 22
Figure 23 Figure 24
Symbols of the Cause of Death - These stone have carvings actually showing how the person died. In Groton, Massachusetts there is a stone with a picture of a man under a tree with the inscription "died by a falling tree."
Tree of Life - The tree of life was popular during the 1700's and was used in poetic imagery or as in the Betsy Shaw stone (figure 26) of Plymouth, Massachusetts or the Walter Loomis stone from Canterbury, Connecticut which symbolizes earthly or heavenly spiritual life.
Figure 26 Figure 27
Trumpeting Figures - These figures are often found carrying a banner with the words "arise ye dead", as in the Susanna Hinkley stone (Figure 28) from Barnstable, Massachusetts, and the Richard Holmes stone (figure 29) from Plymouth Massachusetts. "For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." (Bible 1 Cor 15:52)
Urns and Mermaids - Mermaids were thought of as symbolizing a dual nature. This may possibly be used to symbolize the duality of Christ as Man and the son of God. They are sometimes seen carrying urns of the deceased's remains which symbolizes the last step of our earthly journey (Figure 30).
Figure 28 Figure 29
Wine, the Divine Fluid - Sacramental tankards and chalices were used to represent the souls partaking of heavenly bliss and are usually only found on stones of deacons of the church.
Gravestones A New England Art Form © 1992-2007 D. A. Jacobs
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