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GRAVEN IMAGES: Gravestone Motifs & Their Meanings

The following list was compiled from several different sources. I welcome additions.

These are a few of many motifs found on gravestones with some of the commonly held interpretations of their symbolism.

Don't forget to visit Grave Symbols - my list of various initials for lodges and organizations, often found on gravestones.

  • Anchor/Ships -- Hope or Seafaring profession
  • Angel, Flying- Rebirth; Resurrection.
  • Angel, Trumpeting- Resurrection.
  • Angel, Weeping- Grief and Mourning.
  • Arch - Victory in death.
  • Arrow- Mortality.
  • Bird- Eternal life.
  • Bird, Flying- Resurrection.
  • Book-Representation of a holy book: i.e. the Bible.
  • A pair of Holy Books on Mormom (LDS) headstones indicates the Bibleand Book of Mormon
  • Three Holy Books on Mormom headstones indicates the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine & Covenants -- all of which are scripture to the LDS Church.
  • Breasts (Gourds, Pomegranates) - Nourishment of the soul; the church.
  • Bouquets/Flowers -- Condolences, grief, sorrow
  • Broken Column -- Loss of Head of Family
  • Broken Ring -- Family Circle Severed
  • Buds/Rosebud -- Morning of Life or Renewal of Life
  • Bugles -- Resurrection and the Military
  • Butterfly -- Short-lived - Early Death
  • Candle being Snuffed -- Time, mortality
  • Cherub -- Angelic
  • Coffin, Father Time, Picks/Shovels, Darts -- Mortality
  • Columns and Doors- Heavenly entrance.
  • Corn -- Ripe Old Age
  • Cross -- Emblem of Faith
  • Crossed Swords -- High-ranking military person
  • Crown- Glory of life after death.
  • Cup or Chalice- The Sacraments.
  • Dove- Purity; Devotion.
  • Dove, Flying- Resurrection.
  • Drapes- Mourning; Mortality.
  • Flame or Light- Life; Resurrection.
  • Flower- Fragility of life.
  • Flower, Severed Stem- Shortened life.
  • Flying Birds -- Flight of the Soul
  • Fruits -- Eternal plenty
  • Full-Blown Rose -- Prime of Life
  • Garland or Wreath- Victory in death.
  • Grim Reaper- Death personified.
  • Hand, Pointing Up- Pathway to heaven; Heavenly reward.
  • Hands, Clapsed- The goodbyes said at death.
  • Hand of God Chopping -- Sudden Death
  • Handshakes -- Farewell
  • Harp -- Praise to the Maker
  • Heart- Love; Love of God; Abode of the soul; Mortality.
  • Horns -- The Resurrection
  • Hourglass- Passing of time.
  • Hourglass, Flying- Time flies.
  • Imps -- Mortality
  • Ivy -- Friendship and Immortality
  • Lamb- Innocence.
  • Laurel ---Fame or Victory
  • Lily or Lily of Valley -- Emblem of Innocence and Purity
  • Lion- Courage; The Lion of Judah.
  • Morning Glory -- Beginning of Life
  • Oak Leaves and Acorn -- Maturity, Ripe Old Age
  • Open Book/ Bible -- Deceased Teacher, Minister, etc.
  • Pall- Mortality.
  • Palm Branch -- Signifies Victory and Rejoicing
  • Pick- Death; Mortality.
  • Poppy -- Sleep
  • Portals -- Passageway to eternal journey
  • Rod or Staff- Comfort for the bereaved.
  • Rooster- Awakening; Resurrection.
  • Roses -- Brevity of earthly existence
  • Scythe- Death; The divine harvest.
  • Seashell- Resurrection; Life everlasting; Life's pilgrimage.
  • Sheaf of Wheat -- Ripe for Harvest, Divine Harvest, Time
  • Skull- Mortality.
  • Skull/ Crossed Bones- Death.
  • Skeleton- Life's brevity.
  • Snake (Tail in Mouth)- Everlasting life in heaven.
  • Spade- Mortality; Death.
  • Stars and Stripes Around Eagle -- Eternal Vigilance, Liberty
  • Sun Rising- Renewed life.
  • Sun Shining-Life everlasting.
  • Sun Setting- Death.
  • Thistle- Scottish descent.
  • Thistles -- Remembrance
  • Tombs -- Mortality
  • Torch Inverted -- Life Extinct
  • Tree- Life.
  • Tree Sprouting- Life everlasting.
  • Severed Branch- Mortality.
  • Tree Stump- Life interrupted.
  • Tree Stump w/Ivy -- Head of Family - Immortality
  • Tree Trunk- Brevity of life.
  • Tree Trunk Leaning- Short interrupted life.
  • Trumpeters -- Heralds of the Resurrection
  • Urn- Immortality (ancient Egyptian belief that life would be restored in the future through the vital organs placed in the urn).
  • Urn with /Wreath or Crepe -- Mourning
  • Urn with Blaze -- Undying Friendship
  • Weeping Willow Tree- Mourning; Grief; Nature's lament.
  • Willows -- Earthly Sorrow
  • Winged Face- Effigy of the deceased soul; the soul in flight.
  • Winged Skull- Flight of the soul from mortal man.
  • Wreath- Victory.
  • Wreath on Skull- Victory of death over life.
  • Wheat Strands or Sheaves- The divine harvest.

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