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...
July 4th is a special date for Americans.Two hundred thirty five years ago, on this day, in 1776, our country officially declared its separation and freedom from Great Britain.And each year, on Independence Day, we still celebrate in hundreds of towns and cities across the country, with parades, picnics, barbecues, and fireworks.
Although we may have our differences as individuals, as a country, we still believe that America is the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’As a people, we still honor those who have fought, and those who have died, for our rights, our freedoms, and our country.
And that sense of pride in this country can be seen in cemeteries too.Unlike Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day – both holidays to honor those who have served, and those who have died for our country - July 4th is a day that holds a feeling of pride and promise.
Martin Luther King
We will remember our fallen service men and women on this day, but we will also remember those who returned.We will remember those who have made a difference in our culture, those who have fought to end racism, to end sexism, to end discrimination of all kinds, those who have helped to unify us as one nation, with liberty and justice for all.
In America, we have many symbols that represent freedom, symbols that are found in our cemeteries across the country.Symbols that remind and give hope to all who see them.
Although 235 years old, these words from the Declaration of Independence continue to ring true:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
As we enjoy this holiday weekend, let us pause and remember what we are celebrating – our freedom and independence – as individuals, communities, and as a country!
Happy Birthday America!
And – to our neighbors to the north – Happy Canada Day!
It seems appropriate, with this upcoming religious holiday weekend, to take a closer look at what religious symbols can be found in the cemetery.Here are several of them, listed alphabetically.
Alpha Omega – The first and last letter of the Ionic Greek alphabet.A verse from the Book of Revelation, “I am the alpha and omega,” - the beginning and the end.
Anchor – The anchor has been a symbol of steadfastness and hope in the Christian religion.Early Christians used the anchor as a secret symbol to guide the way to religious meetings.
Anchor with Cross – Another Christian symbol referencing a verse from the book of Hebrews referring to God as “hope we have as an anchor of the soul.”
Angels - Believed to be the spiritual messengers in most major religions. Angels are seen as the guardians of death. We will take a more in-depth look at angels in next Tuesday’s blog.
Book – It may be opened to indicate the Bible or The Book of Life.A closed book may indicate the completion of a life's story.
Book with finger pointing upward indicates faith.
Chalice – The cup represents the sacraments, especially in the Catholic rite of Communion.Often a chalice marks the head stone of a priest.
Christ – Symbol of Christian religion. The Savior or Redeemer.
Clergy – Those ordained to perform the duties of ministering in the Christian religion also have symbols that indicate the branch of faith they followed.
Columnsjoined with an archway – Portrays the entrance to heaven.
Cross – There are numerous versions of a cross.We will take a more in-depth look at them on Friday.For today, the cross is the most recognized Christian symbol.Shown here are the Latin cross, used mostly in Protestant religions, and the Crucifix, used in the Catholic religion.
Crown – A symbol of victory and righteousness, triumph over death.
Dove – The dove is a symbol of devotion.
Grapes, Grape Leaves, Grape Vines– All indicate the Christian faith.
Hands – We use our hands to communicate.Two hands held in prayer show reverence and devotion.
A hand with a finger pointing up indicates a soul’s ascension to heaven.
Therefore, you might surmise that a finger pointing down would bode ill, but actually the meaning is mortality or sudden death.
Harp – A symbol of music and worship in heaven.
I H S – The three letters usually appear on a cross and are derived from the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek – Iota, Eta and Sigma.This has also been said to stand for the Lain words “Iesus Hominum Salvator – “Jesus, mankind’s savior.”
$ - In the Latin alphabet, I H S O Y S, again, Jesus’ name, is combined and interwoven.
Ivy - A plant that never losses it’s color and clings tenaciously symbolizes immortality and eternal life.
Lamb – The lamb is used on the stones of children because it is a symbol of innocence.It has been used to mark children’s graves since Egyptian times.The lamb is also a symbol of Christ.
Lamp – Usually it has a flame rising up from it.The lamp indicates a love of knowledge, wisdom and faith.
Lily - A lily or lilies may be used to symbolize innocence and purity.Often they are associated with the Virgin Mary.
Rock – May be used as a headstone and is a Christian symbol of St. Peter or the resurrection of Jesus.
Scared Heart - A heart encircled with thorns indicates Christ’s suffering.
Star – A 5-pointed star is symbolic with the five wounds of Christ.
Star of David – A symbol of Judaism.This six-pointed star represents divine protection.
Thistle – A symbol of sin and earthly sorrow.
Woman hanging on cross – This was originally the drawing that accompanied the hymn “Rock of Ages.”It indicates unwavering faith.Commonly used on Masonic graves.
Wreath – Symbol of eternity.
Many gravestones are a combination of religious symbols that look well thought out and artistic.
On Friday, Good Friday in the Christian religion, we will explore the variations, designs and meanings of crosses in the cemetery.