Thousands of different religious and secular symbols and emblems have adorned monument through the ages, indicating attitudes towards death and the hereafter, membership in a fraternal or social organization, or an individual's trade, occupation or even ethnic identity. While many of these monument symbols have fairly simple interpretations, it is not always easy to determine their meaning and significance.
Alpha (A), the first letter of the Greek alphabet and Omega (Ω), the last letter, are often found combined into a single symbol representing Christ.
Revelation 22:13 in the King James version of the Bible says "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last." For this reason, the juxtaposed symbols often represent God's eternity, or the "beginning" and the "end." The two symbols are sometimes found used with the Chi Rho (PX) symbol. Individually, Alpha and Omega are also symbols of eternity that pre-exist Christianity.
The anchor was regarded in ancient times as a symbol of safety and was adopted by Christians as a symbol of hope and steadfastness.
The anchor also represents the anchoring influence of Christ. Some say it was used as a sort of disguised cross. The anchor also serves as a symbol for seamanship and may mark the grave of a seaman, or be used as a tribute to St. Nicholas, patron saint of seamen. And an anchor with a broken chain symbolizes the cessation of life.
The American flag, a symbol of courage and pride, is generally found marking the grave of a military veteran n American cemeteries.
A book found on a cemetery tombstone can represent many different things, including the book of life, often represented as the Bible.
A book on a gravestone may also depict learning, a scholar, a prayer, memory, or someone who worked as a writer, bookseller, or publisher. Books and scrolls can also represent the Evangelists.
This is a carving of the "Berlin Bear" from the Coat of Arms of Berlin. The reason the city chose a bear is possibly after Albrecht I, nicknamed "the bear", who is considered to have been the conqueror and founder of the Margraviate of Brandenburg.
Birds are often a symbol of peace. When in flight they also may represent the winged soul, a tradition which goes back to Egyptian times. Sometimes the wings alone are chosen.
The image of a boat has been used on headstones for centuries by many civilizations. The boat lends itself well to carving, as it can be simplified and stylised. It is a romantic symbol, a symbol of a journey but also a symbol of safety and refuge.
A butterfly symbol may represent rebirth, resurrection, or the natural cycle between birth and death. It may represent the soul and may be found on children's headstones.
A symbol reminiscent of the Victorian era, the calla lily represents majestic beauty and is often used to represent marriage or resurrection.
The Celtic or Irish cross, taking the form of a cross within a circle, generally represents eternity.
The circle is an ancient symbol of eternity, often found on Christian graves together with a cross. The circle has no beginning or end and may also symbolizes resurrection.
A broken column indicates a life cut short, a memorial to the death of someone who died young or in the prime of life, before reaching old age.
The dove is a Christian symbol of love and peace. The word "pacem" which means peace in Latin can be seen beneath this dove. The dove also symbolises purity, resurrection and the Holy Spirit .
The dragonfly is a symbol of change and transformation, joy, and lightness. It can also symbolise a connection with nature's spirits. Japan made the dragonfly its national emblem. In some Native American traditions, it is also a symbol of the departed souls.
The entwined letters D and R, the crescent moon, the dove and the three-link chain are all common symbols of the Daughters of Rebekah. The branch was named after the Rebekah from the Bible whose unselfishness at the well represents the virtues of the society.
Seen in both Christian and Jewish cemeteries, the dove is a symbol of resurrection, innocence and peace. An ascending dove, represents the transport of the departed's soul to heaven. A dove descending represents a descent from heaven, assurance of a safe passage. A dove lying dead symbolizes a life cut prematurely short. If the dove is holding an olive branch, it symbolizes that the soul has reached divine peace in heaven.
After the cross, the urn is one of the most commonly used cemetery monuments. The design represents a funeral urn and is thought to symbolize immortality. The cloth draping the urn symbolically guarded the ashes. The shroud-draped urn is believed by some to mean that the soul has departed the shrouded body for its trip to heaven. Others say that the drape signifies the last partition between life and death.
A hand with the index finger pointing upward symbolizes the hope of heaven, while a hand with forefinger pointing down represents God reaching down for the soul.
Seen as an important symbol of life, hands carved into gravestones represent the deceased's relationships with other human beings and with God. Cemetery hands tend to be shown doing one of four things: blessing, clasping, pointing, and praying.
The horseshoe can symbolize protection from evil, but may also symbolize an individual whose profession or passion involved horses.
The eagle symbolises courage, strength and immortality, often regarded as a "king of the skies" and messenger of the Gods. The eagle is a Christian symbol of resurrection. This eagle is carved in sunken relief on a slate headstone.
The fox is often a symbol of cunning and intelligence. In Finnish mythology, it symbolizes the victory of intelligence over both malevolence and brute strength.
The grapevine as a symbol can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and is still used today as a symbol of fertility and prosperity.
The heart is a symbol of life, love or immortality.
Lions in the cemetery can usually be found sitting on top of vaults and tombs, watching over the final resting place of the departed. They also represent the courage, power, and strength of the deceased individual. .
The mighty oak is a symbol of strength, honour, steadfastness and immortality.
The palm branch is a symbol of victory, triumph, peace and eternal life originating in the ancient Near East and Mediterranean world.
The poppy flower is a symbol of death, eternal sleep as well as peace.