Gravestone Symbolism

Anyone who is interested in churchyards, and has looked at gravestones will probably notice a series of recurring images that are carved in to the stone. These are particularly common in 18th Century gravestones. In past ages, when literacy was limited, images were carved which symbolise important issues, so that all could understand them.
  These issues concerned such things as Religion and Man's Mortality as well as commemorating the life of the deceased and their journey in to heaven.
  There follows a list of some of the symbols found. Please note that there is an element of guesswork involved in a few of these. For more photographs of gravestones showing symbols of Man's Mortality, please look at the page entitled Death Head Stones in this section of the site.

Cley triumphal angel

Again from Norfolk, and the church at Cley Next The Sea on the North Norfolk coast. A triumphal, flying Angel blows a horn symbolising ressurection. The Angel is holding a book, perhaps the book of life noting the good deeds performed by the deceased.


Mention is made above of Pick, Shovel and Torch. These are also known as the Gravediggers Tools and are all images of Man's Mortality. These are the tools that the gravedigger would have used to dig the grave. The pick and shovel are self explanatory but the torch would have been used to light the scene for the gravedigger as graves were dug at night.

Dove Symbolism

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Albeit a bit damaged, a dove descends on a grave at Burnham Westgate in Norfolk, symbolising the Holy Spirit. To the right of that, assorted symbols of Mortality and of the passing of time from a slate grave at Edenham, near to Bourne in South Lincolnshire. For those who were struggling with the symbolism here, some handy text is included. "Search the scriptures" it prompts "Alas, how short is life" it continues.

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