Year of the Fire Monkey

Cemetery Symbols and Funerary Art
Letters and Symbols

More Messages and Memories in Monuments

By Dikki-Jo Mullen

Graveyards offer a rich tapestry of symbols, conveying messages from the humorous and ironic to the macabre and heartbroken. Those encrypted in monuments offer timeless messages intended to transcend the limitations of living memory. Cemeteries can be beautiful places to wander and meditate, for they are about love and respect. Generations ago “picnics on the grounds” were popular on Sunday afternoons. During fair weather the living would gather for a picnic near the final resting places of loved ones to socialize and recollect.

Here is a collection of symbols and abbreviations gathered from churchyards in the United Kingdom as well as historic cemeteries in Savannah, Georgia and Orlando, Florida.

Acorn - Prophetic qualities, Norse and Celtic emblem of immortality

Bamboo - Buddhist symbol of initiation and truth

Bouquets - Condolences to the living upon the loss of a loved one

Broken Column - Young person whose earthly life was cut short

Broken Flower - Life has ended

Corn - Occupation as a farmer, a person of the countryside

Crown - Glory after death, righteousness

Daisy - Innocent death, used often with children

Draped Urn - The passing of an elder

Fern - Sincere sorrow

Flag - Patriotism, can suggest a tie to the military

Grapes and leaves - Represents Christ and the Christian faith

Imps - Mortality

Ivy - Undying friendship

Labyrinth - The passage of life

Lamp - A love of learning and knowledge

Laurel Leaves - Distinction, the deceased was accomplished and successful

Lotus - Evolution and resurrection, common in Hinduism and Buddhism, the deceased might have practiced Yoga

Maple Leaf - A long life well lived, sometimes indicating Canadian nationality

Monkey Puzzle Tree - Popular in Eastern England, shows a hiding place from the devil

Morning Glory - Mourning, a reminder of the brevity of life

Pinwheels - Modern symbols to indicate affection and eternal movement, often used on the graves of children

Pitcher - Washing of the hands and feet for sacred cleanliness

Poppy - Peaceful sleep

Portals - The passage to eternity

Rings - A married couple

Rosary - Constant prayers offered for the soul of the deceased

Roses - Buds show a small child, partial bloom a teenager, full bloom signifies death in the prime of life, several roses on a branch denotes secrecy, two joined roses show a strong bond between two people, a wreath of roses symbolizes a beloved mother

Scales - Final justice, can indicate the deceased was an attorney

Scarab - Egyptian symbol of life renewed, with falcon’s wings transcendence and protection

Shattered Urn - A very elderly person

Sun Flower - A life fulfilled

Thistle - Early death or can symbolize Scottish heritage

Tree - Tree of life denotes immortality, a tree trunk the brevity of life, a sprouting tree life everlasting

Urn with a Blaze - Undying friendship

Winged Skull - Flight of the soul from the mortal world

Tombstone Abbreviations

Ad patres - To the fathers, meaning dead or gone away

A.A.S. - Anno aetatis suae - In the year of his or her age

B.M. - Beatae memoriae - Of blessed memory

Dei gratia - By the Grace of God

D.O.M. - Deo Optimo Maximo - To God the best and greatest

H.I. - Hic iacet - Here lies

I.H.S. - In hoc salus - There is peace in this

Memento Mori - Remember you must die

O.B. - Obit - He/She died

R.I.P. - Requiescat in pace - Rest in peace