GRAVESTONE SYMBOLS and THEIR MEANINGS
Following are some of the more common symbols found on gravestones and their meanings.
AGNUS DEI symbol meaning the Lamb of God
ALPHA and OMEGA The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet symbolizing the beginning and the end.
AMERICAN LEGION The deceased was a member of the American Legion, an organization for veterans.
ANCHOR A symbol of hope, or the deceased was a seaman. A Masonic symbol of well-grounded hope.
ANGEL or ANGELS, a guide to Heaven.
ARCH symbolizing a triumphant entry into Heaven or victory over death.
ARROW or ARROWS symbolizing mortality or martyrdom.
BEEHIVE A symbol of abundance in the Promised Land or piety or domestic virture or faith.
BELL A symbol of religious faith or religion.
BIRD, symbol of eternal life, spirituality, Messenger of God, or peace
BOOK or BIBLE, a symbol of the Divine Word or the deceased's lifetime accomplishments (as written in the Book of Life)
BROKEN or DRAPED COLUMN A symbol of early death and or grief.
BUDS A symbol of renewal of life or the loss of a young life if on a child's gravestone.
BURNING FLAME, a symbol of eternal life or resurrection
BUTTERFLY, a symbol of resurrection
CELTIC CROSS A symbol of faith and eternity.
CHAIN with THREE LINKS, symbolizing that the deceased was a member of the Odd Fellows; the letters stand for
Friendship, Love, and Truth
CIRCLE, a symbol of eternity, life never ending.
CLOUDS, a symbol of the Divine abode, Heaven
COLUMN A symbol that the deceased lived a noble life. A drapped column symbolizes mourning and grief.
CROSS, a symbol of faith and resurrection. Many military markers, in particular for Veterans of World War I,
have a cross etched into the gravestone.
CROWN, a symbol of glory of life after death
CYPRESS TREES or CYPRESS BRANCHES, symbolizes hope.
DOVE A symbol of love, purity, ressurection and or the Holy Spirit.
DRAPERY or PALL, symbolizes mourning and or mortality.
EAGLE, DOUBLE-HEADED, symbolizes that the deceased was a 32nd degree Mason.
EAGLE with INITIALS F.O.E., symbolized that the deceased was a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles.
EAGLE Many gravestones of Civil War veterans were engraved with images of eagles.
FEMALE FIGURE, usually depicted in a sorrowing posture, a symbol of sorrow and grief.
FINGER, pointing downward, a symbol of "calling the earth to witness.
FINGER, pointing upward, most common, symbolizing the pathway to Heaven or the deceased found Heavenly reward.
FISH, symbolizing spiritual nourishment, fath, or deceased was a Christian.
FLEUR de LYS A symbol of the Holy Trinity or perfection or of royal blood.
FLOWER A symbol of immortality.
FLYING BIRD, a symbol of rebirth.
G.A.R., symbolizing that the deceased was a member of the G.A.R., the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal
organization for men who fought and were honorably dischared from the Union Army, Civil War. Usually found as
a flag holder beside the gravestone of the deceased.
GARLAND, symbolizes victory over death.
GRAPES A symbol of the Blood of Christ.
GRIM REAPER A symbol found on many early gravestones, meaning the inevitability of death.
HANDS, CLASPED, a symbol meaning farewell and the hope of meeting again in eternity.
HARP A symbol of hope.
HEART A symbol of love, devotion, joy, and/or mortality.
HEART in HAND, a symbol used by either the I.O.O.F. (Independent Order of Odd Fellows) and Masons which means the
deceased was of a charitable nature.
HOURGLASS, a symbol of the swift passage of time, as in the shortness of life on earth.
IVY A symbol of either eternal life or undying affection.
LAMB, a symbol meaning innocence; used primarily on an infant's or a child's gravestone.
LAUREL LEAVES or LAUREL WREATH, symbolizes triumph over death or ever green the memory of the deceased.
LILY, a symbol of purity and/or chastity.
LILY of the VALLEY, a symbol of rebirth.
LOTUS A symbol of purity, resurrection, and/or spiritual revelation.
MASONIC COMPASS & SET SQUARE symbolizes that the deceased was a Freemason.
MEMENTO MORI, a depiction which included bones, a skull, and an hourglass, symbolizing death and serves the living
as a reminder of one's mortality. Usually found on older gravestones of the early 1800's.
MOON A symbol of death, rebirth, or victory. A moon with seven stars, the letter "R", and a dove symbolizes that the
deceased was a member of the Daughters of Rebekah, an auxillary of the I.O.O.F. fraternal organization.
MYRTLE LEAVES, a symbol of undying love and/or peace.
OAK LEAVES or OAK TREE A symbol of faith and virture and/or endurance.
OBELISK A symbol quite popular during the 1880's through the 1930's, meaning rebirth, connection between earth and
Heaven. The orb at the top of an obelisk symbolizes a celestrial body and the deceased's Heavenly reward. It also
symbolizes faith. Some obelisks have an urn instead of an orb at the top. See "urn" below.
OLIVE BRANCH A symbol of peace, forgiveness, one's humanity.
OPEN GATES, a symbol of afterlife and the deceased's soul entering into Heaven.
POPPY, a symbol meaning sleep.
PLOW, a symbol meaning the harvest, the reaping of one's life.
PYRAMID A symbol meaning resurrection, eternal life, enlightenment, spiritual attainment. During the early
part of the 1900's pyramids were quite popular with the general public's fascination with Egyptology.
RAINBOW A symbol of union, fullfillment of the promise of resurrection.
ROPE CIRLE, a symbol of eternity.
ROSE or ROSES, a symbol of love, victory, triumph, and/or purity.
SCALLOP SHELL A symbol of resurrection, life everlasting, the pilgrimage of one's life, and/or baptism of one's soul.
SCYTHE A symbol of a life cut short, death, or the final harvest.
SEVERED TREE BRANCH, a symbol of mortality.
SHEAF of WHEAT, a symbol of old age, a fruitful life.
SHEPHERD'S CROOK, a symbol of charity; often used by the I.O.O.F. representing the opening of earth to Heaven.
SKELETON, a symbol used in the late 1700's and early to mid-1800's designating death and life's brevity on earth.
SKULL, a symbol used in the early to mid-1800's representing mortality and or pentence. A winged skull meant that
the deceased ascended into Heaven.
SLEEPING CHERUB, a symbol of innocence used primarily on an infant's or a child's gravestone.
STAR, a symbol of Divine guidance. A 5-pointed star represents the Star of Bethlehelm. A 6-pointed star
STAR, UPSIDE DOWN A symbol of the Order of the Eastern Star, an organization for the wives of Freemasons.
SUN, RISING, a symbol of renewed life or resurrection
SUN, SETTING, a symbol of death
SUN, SHINING, a symbol of everlasting life
SUN, WINGED, a symbol of spirituality and/or everlasting life
SWALLOW A symbol of motherhood, the spirit of children, or a symbol of consolation.
SWORD, symbolizes the deceased's military service
SWORD, BROKEN, symbolizes a life cut short
SWORDS, CROSSED, symbolizes that the deceased died in battle
SWORD, INVERTED, symbolizes relinquishment of power, victory
SWORD, SHEATHED, symbolized temperance
TREE A symbol of life, knowleged, the fall of man through sin, or human fraility
TREE, SPROUTING A symbol of life everlasting
TREE STUMP A symbol of a life interrupted
TREE TRUNK A symbol of the frevity of one's life. The number of broken branches indicate the deceased family members who
were interred at that site.
TREE TRUNK or TREE, LEANING A symbol of a short life interrupted; a symbol of mourning
TRIANGLE The symbol of the Holy Trinity.
TRIQUET, 3 interlocking circles or triangles The symbol of the Holy Trinity; eternity.
TRUMPET A symbol announcing the resurrection of the deceased's soul entering into Heaven.
URN A symbol for the soul, immortality or penitence.
VIOLET A symbol of humility.
WEEPING WILLOW A symbol of mourning, grief, sorrow, lamentation.
WHEAT A symbol meaning the Body of Christ.
WHEEL, sybolizes the cycle of life, enlightenment, spiritual power.
WINGED FACE A symbol of the soul in flight (normally to Heaven); at times an effigy of the deceased soul.
WINGED HOURGLASS, a symbol representing the fleetness of life; mortality. Commonly used in the late 1700's and early to
WINGED SKULL A symbol of the flight of the soul from mortal man.
WOODMEN of the WORLD A symbol designating that the deceased was a member of the Woodmen of the World fraternal organization.
WREATH, a symbol of victory
WREATH of ROSES, a symbol of Heavenly joy and bliss
WREATH on SKULL, a symbol of victory of death over life
Written & Submitted by Sharon R. Becker, 2007