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H

Letter H

If what you’re looking for on a headstone, or in a graveyard, or a cemetery begins with the letter H, you will find it here within the graveyard symbols A to Z

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  • Hands on gravestones frequently appear and convey a variety of meanings
    • Hand pointing up indicates gone to heaven
    • Hand pointing down indicates the Hand of God. Sometimes represent a sudden death
    • Clasped hands on a headstone can symbolise the deceased being guided to heaven
    • Handshake is a farewell from earthly life and welcome to God’s kingdom
    • Hands praying symbolises religious devotion
    • Hands reaching either God, or if reaching down for the deceased, or the soul reaching upwards, or both
    • Cupped hands represents an offering to God
  • Harp in the Bible is linked with praise to God. It can also show a musical talent of the deceased or Irish heritage.

Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings

Pss 33:2.

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Here at Headstone Symbols, we are building a complete reference guide to provide you with a complete A-Z.

Amanda Norman Photography
To view more of Amanda’s graveyard photography, please visit her AmandaNorman.com
  • Hawthorn in Victorian symbology represents hope. It’s May blossom is also linked with rebirth.
  • Heart can represent love, the sacred heart or love of God. An inverted heart, or one being pierced represents death
  • Heliotrope in Victorian symbology it represents devoted attachment
  • Horses have been associated with power and vitality since the earliest times. They can also represent the long journey to heaven. Shown on a headstone it could also represent that the family owned racehorses, or another trade associated with horses such as a farmer or blacksmith. In medieval times a horse with rider was used to show the dual nature of Jesus. Together they were one entity, but the horse represents the human aspect of Jesus, and the rider His divine nature
  • Hourglass represents time draining away, or winged ‘time flies
  • HTWSSTKS is a Masonic abbreviation of ‘Hiram The Widow’s Son Sent To King Solomon’. It is part of the third degree ceremony so shows that the grave is of a mason at least at this level.
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G

Letter G

If what you’re looking for on a headstone, or in a graveyard, or a cemetery begins with the letter G, you will find it here within the graveyard symbols A to Z

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

  • Gates or doors are symbolic of the entrance of heaven
  • Glass Domes or Immortelles placed on graves as a permanent memorial of the persons life
  • Green Men usually adorn churches, but can appear on grave stones. Usually represents new life and life everlasting
  • Grapes seen on a headstone are linked to the blood of Christ as they are used to make wine. Also see plants and flowers.
  • Grim Reaper seen on a gravestone is the personification of Death. It is usually confused with the far older myth of Father Time

Explore more than just the letter G

Here at Headstone Symbols, we are building a complete reference guide to provide you with a complete A-Z.

Amanda Norman Photography
To view more of Amanda’s graveyard photography, please visit her AmandaNorman.com
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F

Letter F

If what you’re looking for on a headstone, or in a graveyard, or a cemetery begins with the letter F, you will find it here within the graveyard symbols A to Z

Graveyard symbols beginning with the letter F

  • Father Time is a figure holding a scythe and/or an hourglass, waiting patiently for a life to end.
  • Fern leaves on headstones – In Victorian symbology represented solitude due to them living in the middle of forests. Also see plants and flowers.
  • Flames are concerned with the life spirit. Extinguished candles and torches indicate death
  • Flowers conveyed secret codes in Victorian times. Each plant or flower represents something of the deceased.
  • Fruit can represent faith in God and also the fruits of the holy spirit from Galatians 5:22+23 ′ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance’. Also see plants and flowers.
  • Fugit Hora is Latin for ‘Hours are Fleeting’ or ‘Time Flies’. Usually accompanied by an hourglass on a headstone

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Amanda Norman Photography
To view more of Amanda’s graveyard photography, please visit her AmandaNorman.com
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E

Letter E

If what you’re looking for on a headstone, or in a graveyard, or a cemetery begins with the letter E, you will find it here within the graveyard symbols A to Z.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

  • Eagle can represent the U.S.A. and will usually have the motto ‘E Pluribus Unum’. It is also the symbol of John the Evangelist
  • Egg and Dart is sometimes used in borders. It looks like eggs in cups separated by a vertical line. It symbolises life and death
  • Evening Primrose In Victorian symbology they represented silent love

Explore more than just letter E

Here at Headstone Symbols, we are building a complete reference guide to provide you with a complete A-Z.

Amanda Norman Photography
To view more of Amanda’s graveyard photography, please visit her AmandaNorman.com
Categories
C

Letter C

If what you’re looking for on a headstone, or in a graveyard, or a cemetery begins with the letter C, you will find it here within the graveyard symbols A to Z.

  • Cadaver Stones are Memento Mori symbols to remind us of what will become, so live life for today
  • Candles mark our allotted time on earth. See Flames
  • Canterbury Cross is a Celtic Cross but with shorter arms that flare out towards their ends.
  • Celandine in Victorian symbology it represents ‘future joy’.
  • Celtic Cross is a cross surrounded by a circle representing eternity or, heaven, and earth connected
  • Cemetery Angels – see Angels
  • Chalice or Goblet has a variety of meanings
  • Cherubs represent innocence and are usually on children’s graves
  • Chrisma is a cross formed by the Greek letters chi and rho. see XP
  • Circles represent eternity. See also snake swallowing tail
  • Clocks or a clock dial is a mortality symbol meaning the passage of time
Amanda Norman Photography
To view more of Amanda’s graveyard photography, please visit her AmandaNorman.com
  • Clover seen on a headstone can represent the trinity like the shamrock. Occasionally the lucky 4 four leaf clover is seen. In Victorian symbology it represents ‘promise’.
  • Coffin is a mortality symbol, often seen with the Sexton’s tools
  • Column represents a persons life. A broken column indicates a life cut short. A wreath over the column is victory over death. The first mention in the bible of a grave marker is a pillar in Genesis 35:20
  • Cornucopia is a horn filled with fruit. It shows thankfulness to God
  • Crook upside down may represent a shepherd, upwards a priest. Otherwise see Lamb

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  • Cross represents Christian faith, but different crosses can also have different meanings
  • Crown on a headstone represents the Crown of Life
  • Cup contains the blood of Christ and represents the forgiveness of sin by his death on the cross
  • Cypress trees in Victorian symbology represents death and morning
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B

Letter B

If what you’re looking for on a headstone, or in a graveyard, or a cemetery begins with the letter B, you will find it here within the graveyard symbols of A to Z.

  • Bay leaf – in Victorian symbology represents fame
  • Bellflower in Victorian symbology represents constancy gratitude
  • Bells were traditionally rung in churches for the dead. The Death Knell was rung to signify when someone had passed, and hand bells were used in funeral processions
  • Biblical Scenes are sometimes found on old headstones
  • Birds can represent meanings associated with the species. See Dove
  • Bluebell in flower symbology means sorrowful regret
  • Boat or ships can represent the crossing to the other side, or it may represent a hobby, or a profession of the deceased
  • Book on a headstone usually symbolises the Book of Life, but can mean the Bible, learning and faith
  • Bones on a headstone reminds the viewer of what will become of them. See Memento Mori
  • Broom (flower) in Victorian symbology represents humility
  • Bull if winged represents Luke the Evangelist
  • Bulrush can represent salvation, as the baby Moses was saved after being found in the Nile rushes
  • Buttercup on a headstone represents childhood memories in Victorian symbology
  • Butterfly represents resurrection as butterflies die each autumn and reappear in the spring

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Finally, as we visit more churchyards and cemeteries, we will add to our graveyard symbols A to Z list.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Amanda Norman Photography
To view more of Amanda’s graveyard photography, please visit her AmandaNorman.com
Categories
A

Letter A

If what you’re looking for on a headstone, or in a graveyard, or a cemetery begins with the letter A, you will find it here within the graveyard symbols A to Z.

Graveyard symbols beginning with the letter A

  • Abraham and Isaac shows a scene from Genesis 22
  • Adam and Eve represents the Fall of Man
  • Acacia Bush is usually connected with the burning bush in the Bible, and therefore represents immortality. In flower symbology it represents friendship
  • Acanthus Leaf is a common motif seen on the edges of a headstone. It symbolises the immortality of the soul but can also indicate suffering
  • Acorns on a headstone symbolises the power of spiritual growth from a kernel of truth. They can also indicate potential strength as it has the ability to grow into a mighty oak
  • Agnus Dei is Latin for Lamb of God and is emblematic of Christ. It is usually represented by the figure of a lamb bearing a cross or banner
  • Alpha (A) and Omega (Ω) From Revelation 22:13, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
  • Amaranth in Victorian symbology represents immortality
  • Anchor symbolises hope and steadfastness to the Christian faith. It can also signify that the person was a sailor
  • Anemone in mythology were formed when Aphrodite’s tears fell on Adonis’ grave. Therefore they can indicate forsaken love, or death of a loved one

Angels in Cemeteries

  • Angels
    • An Angel praying in a cemetery can often indicate religious devotions
    • Angel pointing towards Heaven with outstretched wings usually represent escorting the soul to Heaven
    • Angel that points downwards usually represents sudden departure, or an untimely death
    • An Angel weeping signifies grief over an untimely death
    • Angel blowing a trumpet on a headstone signifies the Day of Judgement

  • Ankh was a sacred symbol in ancient Egypt and seen as the key to eternal life
  • Arch represents the entrance to Heaven
  • Arrow is a general symbol of death and not the cause of death. See Dart for more information
  • Asphodel in Victorian symbology it represents I will be faithful

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Amanda Norman Photography
To view more of Amanda’s graveyard photography, please visit her AmandaNorman.com
Categories
D

Letter D

If what you’re looking for on a headstone, or in a graveyard, or a cemetery begins with the letter D, you will find it here within the graveyard symbols A to Z.

Graveyard symbols beginning with the letter D

  • Daffodil on a headstone in Victorian symbology represents unrequited love
  • Daisy in Victorian symbology represents innocence, and we often see them on children’s graves. See also Flowers
  • Dandelions were used in the renaissance as a symbol of the Passion of Christ
  • Danse Macabre – Are you aware of the dance of death that you partake in? Also a form of Memento Mori
  • Dart is a symbol of death and is sometimes seen carried by skeletons, or piercing the deceased’s flesh
    • A dart can indicate death
    • Arrows and spears can also appear on headstones to represent death, and not how a person died
    • They are also used in egg and dart reliefs around the edges of monuments and headstones, representing life and death.

And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire: And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth

The book of Revelation
  • Death Head also see Memento Mori
  • Dial as in a clock dial, is a mortality symbol meaning the passage of time
  • Disce Mori Latin for Learn that you will die
  • Dove has several meanings
    • Flying down represents the Holy Spirit
    • Flying up represents the Soul’s journey to Heaven
    • In profile or with an olive branch represents peace
  • Drapery seen on headstones and urns signifies death and mourning.

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To view more of Amanda’s graveyard photography, please visit her AmandaNorman.com
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D headstone-meanings-and-symbols

Death Head

Firstly, allow me to take you on a wonderful journey of showcasing to you, the changing fashion of the churchyard death head.

An early death head featured on an old headstone
An early death head

I love visiting old graveyards and searching for stories of the dead. The older the headstone, the more thrilled I am. During my search however, I have come across these fascinating death heads that mostly have a skull or a cherub’s face. You will find them more commonly on headstones dating from the 16th to 17th centuries. Edinburgh and Northumberland to date, are two of my most favourite places to see them.

These death heads are more than a nice, or probably not so nice carving on a headstone. Interestingly, this depends on your view of them. I adore them!

They are a warning to us all that we cannot avoid death, and that no matter what our status is in life, we are all the same in death.

Secondly, another common interpretation of death heads and other mortality symbols, is to inform us to LIVE LIFE FOR TODAY!

Of course, this message is still strong today.

Thirdly, not all death heads are depicted with two crossed femurs (known as the crossbones). Sometimes you may see one femur, or you may see a skull gnawing on a femur of which, I have yet to find. The earliest example of a death head that I have found to date, is a simple circle as pictured above.

The Skull

The skull itself represents death and is influenced by the ossuary’s or charnel houses of the early centuries.

An ossuary is a building that contains lots of skulls and bones, and was used when burial space was scarce. Back then, someone had the job to retrieve skeletal remains once the body had decomposed.

Importantly, fashion and religious beliefs dictated such imagery and largely depended on the craftsmanship of the local stonemason. Sources of reference included wood carvings, architectural motifs, plaster work, and books including the Bible.

The changing fashion of a churchyard death head

Since the reformation in the 16th century, few headstones now exist, which I feel is a real shame.

As I previously mentioned, the look of a cemetery death head was highly influenced by fashion, religious beliefs, and attitudes of the times. Obviously, my taste in fashion isn’t popular.

During the 16th and 17th centuries you had a choice of the following: –

  • A winged skull
  • Skull and crossbones
  • A cherub’s head with wings

Interestingly, wings represent the ascension of the soul into Heaven, or regeneration of the soul. Consequently, I have found more cherub’s faces with wings than skulls. Edinburgh has some amazing winged skulls to see.

A cadaver from Stamullen in Ireland
A cadaver from Stamullen in Ireland

On a side note though, In Ireland, County Meath, there are some beautiful stone sarcophagi that you must see. These feature rare examples of cadavers from the 14th and 15th centuries and can be found in Stamullen, and Drogheda.

Green Man Death Head

In Scotland’s, Greyfriars Kirkyard, you will find a wonderful cemetery death head resembling the Green Man. Following research from the British Association for Local History, I read that the Green Man when used as a death head, is seen as a dual emblem. It’s hideous face may represent sinful flesh that decays and the sprouting greenery represents the resurrection.

A Green Man Death Head
A Green Man Death Head

Winged Head and the Soul Effigy

With the introduction of the Regency period, we can clearly see the skull and crossbones fall out of fashion. This results in the image of a cherub that represents our soul becoming more common. Interestingly, in America, they call it a soul effigy.

Represents the soul of the deceased soaring up to the Heavens and there awaits the Day of Judgement where the bodies rise to the call of the trumpet
Represents the soul of the deceased soaring up to the Heavens and there awaits the Day of Judgement where the bodies rise to the call of the trumpet

In addition, the winged cherub relays an important message. Those who find grace, may win Heaven.

In England, the cherub’s face is similar to the face of a Renaissance putti, which is child like. [Ref: BAHL]

If you look closely at the image below, you will see that the feathers have been replaced with foliage.

Sibling death heads
Sibling death heads?

Indeed, this is one of my favourite images. I simply adore their two faces and I do wonder what story they tell. Without a shadow of a doubt, this image has a neoclassical feel to it.

The Neoclassical period in Europe for visual arts began c. 1760 and was influenced by the arts of Rome and Ancient Greece. This period also coincided with the 18th century, Age of Enlightenment, which was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe. Many art students ventured on a grand tour of Europe and returned home from Italy with newly discovered Greco-Roman ideals.

Wikipedia

Victorian Cemeteries

Last but not least, we arrive in the Victorian era, which was the period of Queen Victoria’s reign starting in 1837, and lasting till her death in 1901.

Allow me to take you back to a time prior to Victorian cemeteries and their magnificent splendour.

Taking a walk in, or past your local churchyard is not a pleasant experience. I’m taking you back to a time of disease, plagues and poor sanitary conditions. Consequently, our life expectancy isn’t long and unfortunately, your local churchyard is bursting at the seams with rotting corpses. Imagine the putrid scent in the air and the horrific sight before you?

Thankfully, the answer came in the form of Victorian cemeteries.

From 1800 onwards, numerous companies built dedicated gardens to dispose of the dead away from our cities. Moreover, these new gardens became places of beauty where the Victorians liked to take a walk as well as enjoy a picnic. In addition, they created a whole new language of funerary art, which subsequently resulted in the death head falling out of fashion.

In particular, flowers and draped urns, along with various animals are common place for the Victorian dead. Today, and at a glance, you can certainly tell a persons status in life simply by looking at the grandeur of their final resting place.

Places I recommend visiting

To end with, I recommend that you visit Edinburgh so that you can come face to face with its death heads. As I write this now, I have a strong urge to simply book myself a ticket and hotel so that I can go exploring. I feel Edinburgh’s calling.

Therefore and finally, it’s time for you to grab your camera and visit your local cemetery, or churchyard.

What story can you uncover about some of your local inhabitants?

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z