Graveyard Crosses

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Graveyard crosses and their meanings

A variety of different crosses in an Irish graveyard

Crosses are one of the mainstays of grave markers, and amongst the earliest symbols on gravestones. There are a wide variety of graveyard crosses and while the choice of variant on a grave may be for religious reasons, more commonly it followed fashions of the times. 

Symbol of the Graveyard Cross

The graveyard cross symbol is of course representative of the crucifixion, but within that there are sometimes numerical symbolism in their construction. Counting repeating patterns can unlock hidden meanings, for example a Fleur-de-Lys or a shamrock leaf with their three petals represents the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

A circle is never ending, so can signify eternity. Threes or triangles usually represent the holy trinity, the 3 nails to hold Christ to the cross or the Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity. Fours correspond to the four Evangelists, while Christ on the cross suffered 5 wounds. There were 12 apostles, and as 3 x 4 = 12, it is common for the four arms of a cross to end with three points such as three circles or a Fleur de Lys.  

Occasionally medieval grave stones might be found inside a church. They usually have a high cross with 3 steps and an emblem along side. They are swords for men and shears for women. Sometimes there is an emblem associated with their trade or a priest will have a crook or chalice and Eucharist plate

I found an interesting site explaining the meanings of hundreds of crosses at Seiyaku Cross Reference. It also has a page dedicated to mysterious crosses that need deciphering here.

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The gallery below shows some examples of crosses with descriptions.

Back to A to Z of Headstone Meanings

Graveyard Crosses Gallery

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