Genealogists who have started visiting graveyards in order to continue their research have likely seen some strange things. While most gravestones contain the name, date of birth, and date of death of the deceased, not all gravestones stop there. There may be poetic inscriptions, or a portrait of the person. Many gravestones also have images carved into them, or depicted on them.
It’s not too hard to guess that an angel symbolizes rebirth, or a connection between God and man. Everyone knows that skulls or skeletons symbolize death.
But, what about the images that are plants, flowers, and foods? It turns out that those symbols have specific meanings as well. A pineapple symbolizes hospitality. An apple is the symbol for sin, because it refers to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Olives represent peace. Pomegranates are the symbol of immortality, resurrection, and the nourishment of the soul. I cannot help think of the Greek myth about Persephone. Strawberries are the symbol of righteousness. A vine with fruit on it is the symbol for Jesus Christ and the Christian church. I think this refers to the wine that is part of Christian masses, which is often refereed to as “the blood of Christ”. What if you see large grouping of fruit on a gravestone? It symbolizes that the person will have a plentiful eternity.
A nondescript tree represents faith and life. It can also symbolize the Tree of Life, which is a part of many religious beliefs. If you see a tree trunk that has fallen over, it symbolizes mortality. An oak tree is the symbol for supernatural power and strength. Palm trees, or palm fronds, symbolize martyrdom, or a spiritual victory over death. Cedar trees symbolize the deceased person’s strong faith. Cypress trees symbolize sorrow, and were the Roman symbol for mourning. Evergreens are the symbol for immortality.
Flowers are commonly found at funeral services, and are what most people bring to put on the grave of a loved one. If you see a flower carved into a gravestone, it symbolizes the brevity of earthly existence. I think this is because flowers don’t last for very long, especially after they have been picked. They quickly wither. If the flower on the gravestone is broken, this represents that the person died a premature death. Perhaps they died young, or while still a child. Poppy flowers are symbolic of sleep. We often refer death as a “final rest”, so it is understandable that poppy flowers also symbolize death. A Tudor rose means that the deceased was of English descent, and a thistle means the person was of Scottish descent. Thistles also represent the inevitability of death, and remembrance. Roses, in general, are the symbol for sorrow and condolence.
Image by Wee Keat Chin on Flickr