Old City Cemetery Committee, Inc. - Funerary Symbolism


Funerary Symbolism
Families chose the tomb type and style to be constructed and also the symbols they wanted to adorn the tomb or be inscribed on the enclosure tablet. An enclosure tablet is found on the front of the tomb and lists the names of the people buried inside. Families had many different symbols to choose from and many combined one or more types to express their feelings for the family members buried who were buried.

Anchor - this early Christian symbol of hope has been found as funerary symbolism in the art of the catacombs. 

The "Cross and Anchor" - another early Christian symbol referring to Christ as "hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sincere and steadfast" 
(Hebrews 6:19). 

Angel - these "messengers of god" are very popular funerary imagery, often depicted escorting the deceased to heaven or mourning untimely death. 

Broken column - symbolizes life cut short. 

Broken flower - A flower, broken off at the stem, symbolizes a life terminated at a very young age, giving way to a term still used today. . . "nipped in the bud." 

Clasped hands - a symbol originating centuries ago, the clasped hands symbolize unity and affection even after death. 

Column - universally associated with commemoration. The column was used most often as a war memorial. 

Cross - symbolizes faith and resurrection and considered the perfect symbol of Christ's sacrifice in the Christian religion. Common variations include the Latin cross, the Greek cross, the Celtic cross, and the Russian or Eastern cross. Popular for tombstone markers. Crosses can be found on tombs in ironworks, and freestanding and relief ornamentation. 

Crown - immortality. 

Flowers - flowers symbolize human life and beauty, but also have individual associations. Daisy: innocence. Lily: symbolizes purity. Often associated with the Virgin Mary and resurrection. A calla lily particularly symbolizes marriage and the lily of the valley is associated with purity and humility. 

Oak - because the oak was looked upon as the tree from which the cross was made, it became a symbol of Christ. 

Palm - originally a symbol of military victory, it was adapted into christianity as a symbol of Christ's victory of death. Often seen as an attribute of martyrdom and eternal peace. 

Pansy - symbolizes remembrance and humility. 

Poppy - sleep. 

Rose - associated with the Virgin Mary, the "rose without thorns." A red rose symbolizes martyrdom and a white rose symbolizes purity. 

God/Eye of God - symbolizes the omnipresence of God. The eye of God enclosed in a triangle represents the Trinity. 

Hands - a hand with the index finger pointing upwards symbolizes the hope of heaven. Hands holding a chain with a broken link symbolizes the death of a family member. The hand of God plucking a link of the chain represents God bringing a soul unto himself. A hand holding a heart is a symbol of the Lodge of Odd fellows. 

Heart - traditionally a symbol of love, courage and intelligence, the flaming heart signifies extreme ardor. The heart encircled with thorns symbolizes the suffering of Christ. A heart pierced by a sword symbolizes the Virgin Mary, harkening to Simeon's prophecy to Mary at the birth of Christ, "Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul." 

Hourglass - the attribute of death and Father Time, the hourglass symbolizes the passage of time and the shortness of life. 

Lamb - this symbolizes Christ in his sacrificial role and personifies innocence, gentleness and humility. 

Mourning figure - typical early 20th century funerary image. 

Obelisk - 19th century Egyptian revival decoration universally associated with commemoration. 

Torch - originally the torch was a Greek symbol of life and truth, but the inverted torch in funerary art symbolizes death. 

Urn - originating as a repository for the ashes of the dead in ancient times, the urn has evolved into a popular symbol of mourning. 

Vessel with flame - represents the eternal flame or the eternal spirit of man. 

Weeping willow - a symbol of sorrow and mourning. 

Wreath - originating as an ancient symbol of victory, it was adopted into the Christian religion as a symbol of the victory of the redemption. It is now a common memorial symbol. 

    

 
 

  
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