SMIG

Memorial Decorations & Carvings

The Language of Death

Symbols and Carvings

 
Grave decoration
The carvings on graves and other memorials to the departed may simply be decorative. Or they may have been chosen to say something about a person. Older gravestones in particular may have features from a set of once commonly recognised symbols - the "Language of Death" - telling something about the deceased's life, relationships, or manner of death, or expressing a hope for his/her soul. The list below is not exhaustive, but may be helpful in 'decoding' such symbolic carvings. Note that some overlap, but may have distinguishing nuances according to the traditions of those who commissioned them. Below the list are some examples.

AcaciaImmortality
AcanthusHeaven
AnchorHope & Steadfastness or Sailor's Grave. [example below]
AngelSpirituality – Link between God and Earth
Angel blowing a trumpetCall to Resurrection
Angel flyingRebirth (Angels and Cherubs may look very similar). [example above]
ArchVictory
ArrowMortality
Arms OutstretchedMercy
BellA call to judgement
Bird in FlightThe soul ascending to heaven
BookFaith or Wisdom
BranchCut short from the tree of life
ButtercupCheerfulness
ButterflyResurrection
CandleLife
CherubThe Soul or Grave of a Child
CircleEternity
CloudsHeaven
CoffinEternity
Coffin openResurrection [example below]
Column brokenEarly grief or sorrow; a life cut short [example below]
CornA Farmer's Grave
CrocusGladness
CrownImmortality – Victory – A reward to the faithful
DaffodilDeep regard or Grave of a Child
DaisyInnocence or Grave of a Child
Deer Faithfulness
DogLoyalty
Door or GateEntrance to heaven
DoveThe Holy Spirit
DraperyMourning
EagleCourage or Military Service
Fern Sorrow
FishFaith
FlameEternity
Hand pointing downMortality
Hand Pointing UpRighteousness
Hands ShakingFarewell
Hands preyingDevotion
HarpHope or Grave of a Musician
HeartLove
Heart bleedingSuffering
Heart on fireReligious fervour
Hexagram (6-pointed star)Associated with Freemasonry, Judaism, Islam and other creeds; most likely to indicate a Freemason
HorseCourage
HourglassTime passing
Hourglass on its sideTime stopped
Hourglass with wingsTime's swift flight
IHSJesus (from Hebrew via Greek & Latin); or:
"In Hoc Signo" (In hoc signo vinces - In this sign you will conquer); or:
"Iesus Hominum Salvator" (Jesus Saviour of Men) -
depending upon interpretation & tradition
[examples below]
INRIJesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. (Latin. Sign affixed to Jesus' Cross on Pilate's orders)
IvyUndying affection [example below]
KeySpiritual knowledge
KnotEverlasting life
LambPurity & Innocence
LampKnowledge
Lily FlowerDeath - hence Purity and Resurrection. [example below]
Lily of the ValleyPurity and Innocence [example below]
M
Mary - one of many Marian symbols
Mizpah"Hope & Light" - "The Lord watch between me and thee while we are absent one from another"
Neptune's TridentA Sailor's Grave. [example below]
OakStrength or Endurance
ObeliskEternal Life
PansyRemembrance
PoppyPeace – Sleep - Rest
PyramidEternity
RocksStrength or Safety
Rose(Maternal) Love
RosebudDeath of a Child
Roses entwinedBond between two people
ScalesDay of Judgement
ShellUnforgotten or Pilgrimage
Ship sinking (sails awry, masts leaning)Shipwreck victim
SnakeThe Fall of Man or Eternity
Sickle or ScytheThe Divine Harvest
Skeleton or SkullMortality. [example below]
StarSpirit
Swords & PistolsCourage - A Military Grave. [example below]
TorchLife
TriangleTrinity
TrumpetsVictory and Resurrection or The Day of Judgement. [example below]
UrnGreek symbol of mourning or The Soul
Urn on FireNew Life
WillowGrief (may also indicate a Mason)
YewEternal Life

Examples of Carved Symbols
Lily
Lily of The Valley
Lily of the Valley
Click on images for larger versions


Pistols
Crossed Pistols & Sword
Pistols & Sword
Lily
Lily Flower
The Lily Flower
IHS
IHS in a roundel as part of a trefoil cross
IHS
IHS
IHS in a quatrefoil, at the top of a headstone
IHS
IHS
IHS incorporating a trefoil cross
IHS
Open Coffin
An open coffin, showing the departed
Open Coffin
Ivy
Ivy leaves around the top, with a mixed posy in the middle
Ivy garland
Skull, bone and trumpets
Skull with long bone and crossed trumpets
Skull with long bone and crossed trumpets
Column broken
A 'broken' column
A 'broken' column
Maritime
Neptune's Trident & an Anchor for a naval officer
Trident & Anchor
An angel
An angel with wings
An angel with wings
 
Click on images for larger versions
For examples of crosses see Memorial Shapes

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