I am a Tombstone Tourist: someone who loves to wander cemeteries. I find it akin to visiting a museum: an opportunity to enjoy rarely seen sculpture, intricate carvings, and amazing architecture, all in a tranquil outdoor setting. This blog is about cemetery culture, art, history, issues of death, and genealogy - subjects of current relevance. I usually find something that intrigues me and makes me want to dig deeper. Care to join me? Read on...
Friday, January 17, 2014
Guardians of the Dead
history it was believed that a cemetery had an appointed guardian; a soul
who was left there to protect the cemetery grounds and the departed, not only
from visiting humans, but from evil forces as well.
Today you can take a stroll
through a cemetery and find a few graves and monuments thatare being “guarded”
by stone sentries. These may take many forms including lions, dogs, eagles, angels and soldiers.
and grave guardians are never caught looking down as many other statues are in
mourning, but a guardian stands with head erect, watching over those they
protect. Here are just a few to look for.
are a symbol of power and strength. They are usually found in pairs, guarding
the entrance of a mausoleum against intruders and evil spirits. They are
usually shown with one resting while the other keeps watch over the grave. The
lion is a noble animal and symbolizes the courage of the departed.
sphinx closely resembles the lion. It is composed of the head of a human
and the body of a lion. A sphinx represents the strength and bravery of the
deceased. These are also found in pairs at the entrance to a tomb, guarding against evil spirits.
can be found guarding Civil War military graves. They are strong birds that
represent faith, courage and generosity of spirit. A double eagle is usually
found at the grave of a 33rd Degree Mason.
dog standing watch at a gravesite symbolizes loyalty, fidelity and vigilance.
But there are also reports of ghostly black dogs, known as grims, which guard cemeteries. These shadow dogs are seen mainly in
southern US cemeteries and graveyards in Europe. The black dog is known
as guardian over the entire cemetery and, according to legend, will chase people
out of the cemetery if they are there after dark.
Dogs are found at the gates of many Chinese cemeteries. These guardians are a
combination of a dog and a lion, and usually are mated in pairs. The male and
female Foo dogs guard entryways to tombs and mausoleums. The male is usually located
on the right with a ball under his foot, and the female is on the left holding
down a playful kitten under her paw. They are said to mimic our roles in life
and show that these ties continue after death.
Elk are found at the site of B.P.O.E. community graves (Benevolent
Protective Order of Elks). This fraternal organization was popular during the latter half of the 19th century and
first half of the 20th century.
intercede for the benefit of humans to God. While many are shown in mourning, some angels
are shown carrying a child or leading a person toward heaven. In this role, the
angel is acting as a guardian of that soul as it is escorted to heaven.
mysterious, hooded and draped figure can be found sitting or standing in front
of the grave it guards. Several versions of this guardian can be found in the
U.S., and many have names.
Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery, it is called Eternal Silence. The “Black Aggie”
placed in Druid Ridge Cemetery in Pikesville, Maryland was officially named “The Mystery of the Hereafter and the Peace
of God that Passeth Understanding.”The
public called it “Grief.”
Other hooded sentries
can be found in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St Louis, and in the rear courtyard
of the Dolley Madison House in Washington, D.C.
to legend, the figures walk the cemetery at night. There are also tales
that if you look into the eyes of the hooded figure, you will see your own
military cemeteries have guardians keeping watch over the soldiers. Usually it is a soldier standing with his gun, gazing out over his band of brothers. Soldiers are especially popular in Civil War cemeteries, both at Union and Confederate graves.
then there are the “other” cemetery guardians. In Europe, the guardian was
considered to be the first person buried in a new cemetery. Unfortunately, it
is said that some people were selected to be the guardian and were then buried alive
in the cemetery in order to achieve it. The same is true of black dogs – a black
dog may have been selected to guard a cemetery and was then buried alive in
order to denote it as guardian.
this be why people have reported hearing disembodied voices in cemeteries
telling them to leave? Possibly it is the cemetery guardian vigilantly making
sure no one trespasses upon the graves of those interred there – a guardian spirit
who takes “rest in peace” quite literally.