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Cemetery Symbolism Part One

In Victorian America (1837-1901), iconography was used on gravestones to reflect the hopes and fears of the living, and the history of the dead.

Themes of Christianity and mourning were most prevalent, and these images were influenced by the styles of the period.

Classical and Egyptian Revival Motifs

Cemetery imagery was heavily influenced by the aesthetics of the Classical and Egyptian revival movement during the Victorian period.

Willows

Mourning, sadness

Urns & Columns

Classical Greek and Roman influences

Obelisks and Pyramids

Egyptian influence

Angels and Women

Figures of consolation, angels, and women were common throughout, and following, the Victorian period.

Angels

Grew in popularity with the rise of Christian consolation literature.

Female figures

Comforting, consolatory, commemorative, honorable

Drapes, Veils, and Coverings

During the Victorian period, funerals were primarily held at home. The house was dressed in mourning, with fabrics over windows, mirrors, and frames as a sign of grief. These draperies were carved on tombstones as a sign of mourning.

Flowers

It was not always socially acceptable to openly discuss emotions and intentions during the Victorian period. Flowers were assigned complex meanings that when combined, could convey these thoughts. In death, flowers could be used to express grief, mourning, and love.

Roses

Typically represented women, and the age of the flower depicted the age of the woman.

Ivy

Friendship or an eternal embrace

Lilies

Purity and innocence

Animals

Lambs

Almost always mark the grave of a child

Dove

The holy spirit

Miscellaneous Iconography

Clasped Hands

A final farewell or someone being led to the other side. The cuffs can reveal the relationship and gender.

Hand pointed upward or downward

A finger pointing up means the deceased has ascended into heaven. A finger pointing down does not mean the deceased has descended…it typically indicates an untimely death.

Open Books

Represents scholastic knowledge or scripture