Selecting a Memorial » Symbols / Designs and their meanings
Symbols add significantly to the beauty and meaning in the design of a monument. The floral designs and ornamental emblems shown here are but a few of the many symbols used to enrich a memorial. The skill and creativity of the designer, the artistry of the master craftsman, along with input from family and friends combine to create a personalized and meaningful memorial.
It is also important to remember that a symbol can have more than one meaning. Take the image of an anchor, for example. The traditional interpretation of an anchor is "hope", but if the person was involved with the sea in some way, the anchor may indicate his or her profession. The anchor may also signify someone who was considered the patriarch or matriarch of a family that "anchored" the family together. I recently observed the symbol of a single rose on a headstone and first assumed it indicated the traditional meaning of love, purity or victory. However, further research revealed that the family owned a large, family owned nursery known worldwide for their propagation of hybrid roses. Here, a commonly seen symbol could easily be misinterpreted, if not for additional knowledge of the family business.
Today, families are looking to the past for meaningful symbols to use to personalize the gravestones and monuments of their loved ones. However, many of the old symbols have lost their significance because they haven't been used for decades. Markers in memorial parks allow little space for symbolism except for the occasional rose, praying hands, crucifix or Jewish star. It may also be that more people chose stock patterns for headstones, believing they could not afford something custom designed and more personal. The wide use of pre-selected designs has made many of the old symbols seem archaic; the meanings of which forgotten over time. Instead, some families create their own symbolic "language", using designs that are significant only to them.
Baby-Boomers are now increasingly responsible for selecting family memorials, and true to the generational tendency to leave their mark wherever they can, include new symbols that will no doubt baffle future generations. Can you imagine a leisurely walk in an "old" cemetery of the late 20th century in, say, 2075? Scratching their heads, great-great-grandchildren reading an epitaph below an image of a Star Trek communications device carved in stone will ask, "Just what do you suppose 'Beam Me Up, Scotty' means? Will they know that a monument in the shape of a gaping, tooth rimmed shark mouth was erected for someone's love of the movie "Jaws", and not because he was eaten by a shark? Today's symbolism is much less universal than that used over a hundred years ago because it more closely reflects the fleeting commercial symbols with which we are inundated.
Until we need to begin deciphering modern symbolism, have a look at some of the most common "old-fashioned" iconography. If you have any to add, please let me know.
|The Latin Cross and the IHS are both symbols of Christianity. The Latin Cross is most often regarded as the "True Cross" upon which our Saviour died. The IHS is the Latinized contraction of the name Jesus (IHCOYC) in Greek.||The laurel symbolizes Glory, Atonement and Reward and Victory. In wreath form it is appropriate for persons with distinction in the arts, literature, military service or Christian service.|
|The Ivy, a popular symbol, is used to represent Memory. It can represent Fidelity, Friendship, Faithfulness, and Immortality (or Eternal Life). In wreath from it is a symbol for Conviviality. Symbolizes Everlasting Life and Eternal Affection||The Acanthus plant is associated with the rocky ground in the ancient Greek cemeteries- therefore the symbolism attributed to its "Heavenly Gardens."|
|The Lily, when referred to as the Easter lily, is symbolic of purity, Innocence, Our lord's resurrection and of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As the Lilium Candidum or Madonna Lily, it represents the Annunciation, Purity and Heavenly Bliss. Also signifies Our Lord's Human Nature.||The Order of the Eastern Star is the women's counterpart of the Masonic Order. The five points in the emblem signify family relationship, very appropriate for a family memorial.|
|The Masonic Emblem is one of thousands of social, religious, civic and fraternal organizations with identifying insignia that are often used on monuments and markers. The Mason's emblems is one of the better known.||Holy Scriptures. It symbolizes the Divine authorship or the Word of God. Respect for the Word of God. It marks Divine Authority, Perfect Knowledge, the Book of Wisdom.|
|The Passion Flower is one of the consummate symbols of the story of Our lord's Passion and death. In its parts (stem, leaf, petals, etc.) it is said to contain symbology of Our Lord's Passion and Crucifixion.||The Fleur-De-Lys is thought to be a form of Annunciation of the Saviour. It is also the symbol of the Trinity or the Blessed Virgin Mary.|
|The Grape (True Vine) represents Our lord. It is also symbolic of the Christian Church, made up of believers in the True Vine, Jesus Christ. "I am the vine, ye are the branches." John 15:5. Symbol of Religious Truth's and Mysteries. Unity||Tha Cala Lily is a symbol for Majestic Beauty and marriage,|
|The Chi Rio is a contraction of the Greek Xpictoc meaning Christ. The Alpha Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet symbolizing Christ as the "beginning and the end."||The Cultivated Rose, sometimes referred to as the American Beauty Rose, is used to symbolize Everlasting Love and persons born in the month of June. Beauty and Heavenly Joy.|
|The Dogwood is a symbol for Christianity, Divine Sacrifice and the Triumph of Eternal Life. In context with the Cross or Crucifixion it means Regeneration. It is the State Flower of North Carolina and Virginia. Devine Sacrifice and Triumph of Eternal life. Symbol of the Atonement.||The Wild Rose is an extremely popular flower that is used in many different forms in monuments design. Its symbolic meaning is "true love". In conventional form it symbolizes Messianic Promise or Our Blessed Saviour. In heraldic from it means, the Blessed Virgin Mary.|
Rebirth, resurrection, protection, judgment, wisdom, mercy, Divine love. Messenger of God.
Eternal life, peace, truth.
Victory in death, being rejoined with partner in heaven.
Domestic virtues, education, faith, abundance in the Promised Land, piety.
Eternal life, winged soul, spirituality.
The Divine word or one's accomplishments.
Broken or Draped column
Early death, grief.
Life or resurrection.
Represents Devotion and Christ as the Light of the World
Faith and eternity.
Chain With Three Links
Trinity, faith, Odd Fellows.
Glory of life after death.
Crown upon Skull
Triumph of death.
Cup or Chalice
Portrays Hope. It represents the Christ Child's Innocence.
Resurrection, salvation, bearer of souls across water to heaven.
Entrance to heaven.
Love, purity, resurrection, the Holy Spirit.
Drapery or Pall
Mourning or mortality.
Courage, faith, generosity, contemplation, military.
Eye of Ra/Horus
Sun/Moon, Life/Death, protection against evil.
Finger Pointing Downward
Calling the earth to witness.
Finger Pointing Upward
Pathway to heaven, heavenly reward.
Faith, life, spiritual nourishment.
Perfection, light, life, royalty.
Life's frailty, immortality.
Worldly pleasure, sin.
Victory over death.
Inevitability of Death.
Farewell, hope of meeting in eternity.
Heart, Pierced by Sword
Virgin Mary, Christ, repentance.
Love, devotion, sorrow, joy, mortality, piety.
Military service, strength, protection.
Protection against evil.
Swift passage of time, temperance.
Eternity (Christian symbol: "In His Service" or "In this sign conquer") Commonly used in Celtic crosses.
Rebirth, the Virgin Mary.
Fidelity, attachment, undying affection, eternal life.
Innocence (specially on a child's grave), Resurrection. Jesus
Purity, sometimes chastity.
Lily of the Valley
Rebirth, Virgin Mary.
Courage, bravery, strength.
Purity, resurrection, perfect beauty, spiritual revelation.
Masonic Compass and Set Square
Freemasons, uprightness, judgment.
Symbol of death and reminder of mortality.
Death, rebirth, victory, sorrow of the crucifixion.
Mother and Child
Undying love, peace.
Truth, purity, innocence.
Strength of faith and virtue, endurance.
Rebirth, connection between earth and heaven.
Peace, forgiveness, humanity.
Afterlife, the soul entering heaven.
Wisdom, solitude, a warning of impending death.
Christ and of Christ's Passion, Crucifixion and Salvation from Sin through Christ's Sacrifice
Signifying the Birth of Hope. Indicates the Nativity and the Birth of Christ
Resurrection, eternal life, enlightenment, spiritual attainment.
Union, fulfillment of the promise of resurrection.
Nourishment of the soul.
Rod or Staff
Comfort to the bereaved.
Awakening, resurrection, courage, vigilance.
Victory, pride, triumphant love, purity.
Birth, baptism, resurrection, life everlasting, pilgrimage of life.
Death, cutting life short, the final harvest.
Irish descent, Holy Trinity.
Sheaf of Wheat
Old age, fruitful life.
Death, life's brevity.
Skull & Crossed Bones
Transitory nature of earthly life, penitence, mortality.
Innocence (usually on child's grave).
Vanity, futility of seeking earthly glory.
Everlasting life in heaven. (Also called oroboros)
Star of David
Steps, 3 Tiered
Faith, Hope and Charity.
Sun Disc, Winged
Spirituality, everlasting life.
Renewed life, resurrection. Dawn of New life.
Motherhood, spirit of children, consolation.
Life cut short.
Relinquishment of power, victory.
Life lost in battle.
Tablets of the Decalogue
Containing the text from Exodus and Deuteronomy given to Moses on Mount Sinai as a symbol of the Old Covenant.
Four Hebrew letters Y, H, W, H spelling the true name of God, reminder of God's omnipresence.
Scottish descent, earthly sorrow, defiance.
Immortality, purification, truth, wisdom.
Life, knowledge, the fall of man through sin, human fruition or frailty.
Brevity of life, number of broken branches can indicate deceased family members buried at that site.
Tree Trunk, Leaning
Short interrupted life, mourning.
Triqueta (3 interlocking circles or triangles)
Eternity, Trinity, popular motif on Celtic crosses.
Announcement of the resurrection or the soul's entrance into heaven.
Floral Emblem of Charity and the Declaration of Love.
Immortality, penitence, death of the body and its return to dust in the final resting-place.
Mourning, grief, lamentation, sorrow.
Body of Christ. Bread of Life.
Cycle of life, enlightenment, spiritual power.
Effigy of the deceased soul, the soul in flight.
Fleetness of life, mortality.
Flight of the soul from mortal man.
Wreath, of Roses
Heavenly joy and bliss.
Wreath on Skull
Victory of death over life.
Yin Yang Circle
Harmony, balance, birth and death
10 KEY STEPS in the process of selecting a memorial