A stroll through the cemetery will reveal a multitude of symbols on graves. You may come upon angels, skulls, hands, or more. But what do they all mean? Atlas Obscura has put together a collection of the most interesting you may find…
Popular especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, the flying skull signifies the fleetingness of life and the soul carrying into the afterlife.
Similar to the winged skull, the hourglass indicates the swiftness of time’s passage – something literally flying with wings.
Hands are common on graves, whether in prayer, pointing up as an indication of heaven, or down as a divine message to those below. Often, two hands are clasped together in a final farewell, especially on the tombs of a married couple, where on person is leaving, and one left behind.
A torch turned upside down shows that the soul is still burning in the afterlife.
Usually found on the graves of women who died young, a dove represents purity. Sometimes it is shown ascending into heaven or lying dead if a person perished suddenly.
The bloom of the rose symbolizes the age of a lady when she died, whether as a rosebud or in full bloom, and its thorny stem snapped if she died too soon.
Tree stump tombs often memorialize a life cut off short and suddenly.
Wheat, along with other symbols like oak leaves, symbolizes a long life, one that was harvested by the reaper when it was time.
Usually found on the tombs of children, a lamb symbolizes innocence and can also reference Jesus Christ – the Lamb of God.
Representing the book of life, a person’s love of literature, or a reference to the Bible, the open book is a symbol fora human heart open to God, as well as the deeds of a person’s life being recorded.
Incredibly common in Victorian cemeteries, the draped urn is a visual of the separation between the living and the dead and a protective shroud for the soul, as well as a classically-inspired symbol of death.
Doors and open gates are symbols for the passage into heaven, the leaving of the land of the living for the great beyond…