Drapery seen on headstones usually depicts the veil between life and death and the crossing of that plane and to others it can symbolise God’s protection until Resurrection.
Before hearses became common, during the deceased’s journey from their home to the church their coffin was draped in a black cloth, sometimes decorated with memento mori or crosses. This was the pall. It was held at each corner by a pallbearer, while the coffin itself was supported by underbearers.
Drapery remained a favourite symbol of the Victorians and is often seen covering urns.
In the Victorian era the urn became a symbol of death and the return of the physical body to dust while the soul was everlasting. The urn’s history started in Pagan religions that carried out cremation. The ashes of the deceased where commonly collected and buried in an old or roughly made cooking pot. As these civilizations grew the containers became more elaborate. The urns we see today on grave monuments are often stylised on ancient Roman and Greek containers for ashes.
Early Christian funerals were seen as a symbol of the burial and resurrection of Christ and cremation was seen as a pagan practice, and this view was not changed until the late 19th century. As the population increased in major cities, cemeteries became overcrowded and unhygienic conditions arose with burials only just below the surface. A solution was needed, and with changes in attitude and advances in technology, cremation was seen as a solution to the problem. The ashes where again collected in urns and placed in a cemetery columbarium, a building containing niches in the wall to hold the urns.
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