People are surrounded by symbolism, whether they realise it or not. Walk along any high street and you will come across a pair of golden arches: we all know the emblem to be the sign for McDonald's.
The Victorians did not experience the same barrage of advertising images for products and services, yet they created cemeteries which are full of symbolism and which are treasures for us all to enjoy.
People are beginning to have all forms of personal symbolism on their memorials, such as cars, motorbikes, animals etc, and we encourage individuality.
Present day artists are making wonderful works in stone, but may feel, sadly, that they should "play safe" when making memorials for cemeteries.
It would be a good thing for the future if grave owners could be encouraged to be a little more adventurous and to commission some fine works of art for their memorials.
Common symbols with their meanings
- Anchor: An early Christian symbol for hope
- Angel: The Agent of God, often pointing heavenwards
- Ark: Symbol of the Church, since in the Ark all living creatures found refuge from danger
- Beehive: Symbol for a community of those who work together for the benefit of all
- Bed: A deathbed
- Butterfly: The Resurrection and eternal life (as the butterfly leaves the pupa and sours upward with a new body).
- Circle: Eternity: often incorporated into the Celtic cross
- Column: A broken column signifies mortality, life cut short
- Cross: Symbol of the Christian religion
- Crown: An emblem of a Christian martyr
- Crown of Thorns: A mockery crown - symbol of humiliation and suffering.
- Dove: Expresses innocence and purity, signifying the Holy Spirit and the presence of God.
- Gates: Entry into Heaven
- Hands: When clasped, a symbol of farewell - we shall meet again.
- Heart: Love and devotion
- Holly: The thorny, prickly leaves of the holly tree are regarded as a symbol of the Crown of Thorns, and so recall the passion of Christ.
- Horse: Strength, courage or the swiftness of the passage of time.
- Hourglass: Father Time
- IHS: The first three letters (iota,eta,sigma), of the Greek spelling of Jesus
- Ivy: Immortality and friendship
- Labyrinth: Eternity
- Lamb: Innocence, frequently used on a child's grave
- Lamp: Immortality
- Laurel: Victory or fame
- Lily: Purity and immortality. The bulb decays in the ground, yet from it new life is released - symbol of Easter
- Lion: Strength and courage, the Resurrection
- Obelisk: Eternal life, Egyptian sun worshipping symbol
- Olive Branch: Peace, harmony and healing
- Palm: Triumph over death
- Passion Flower: Christ's passion, sacrifice and redemption
- Peacock: Early symbol of the Resurrection.
- Pelican: Symbol of atonement
- Phoenix: Mythical bird, rising from its own ashes - immortal life
- Pillow:Symbolising the deathbed
- Rocks: Steadfastness of the Christian faith
- Rope: An emblem of the betrayal and arrest
- Scythe or sickle: The passage of time
- Shell: Pilgrimage
- Ship: The Christian Church, carrying the faithful through the world
- Skeleton: Symbol of death, frequently shown with a scythe since death cuts short life; or with an hourglass - symbol of passing of time.
- Skull: Mortality
- Snake: Eternity
- Sundial: Passage of time
- Sword: Justice
- Torch:Inverted, life quenched out
- Tree: Life and regeneration
- Urn: Symbolises death - the classical Grecian urn contain human remains; if flaming symbolised new life.
- Wheat: The Bread of Life
- Willow: Grief and mourning
- Wings: A divine mission - angels and cherubim are shown with wings
- Wreath: Eternal life
- Yew: Mourning, due to its long association with churchyards