Gravestone Symbolism

• Anchor/Ships – Christian hope or indication that the deceased was of the Seafaring  profession

• Angel, Flying- Rebirth,  Resurrection.

• Angel, Trumpeting- Resurrection.

• Angel, Weeping- Grief and Mourning.

• Bird, Flying- Resurrection.

• Broken Column -- Loss of  the Head of the Family

• Broken Ring -- Family Circle Severed

• Butterfly –  Fragility of life.

• Candle being Snuffed – Time running out, Mans mortality

• Coffin, Father Time, Picks & Shovels -- Mortality  of Man

• Corn -- Ripe Old Age

• Cross -- A sign of Christian Faith

• Crossed Swords -- High-ranking military person.

• Crown- The glory of life after death.

• Curtains- Mourning; Mortality.

.       Dog - Loyalty, vigilance and courage.

• Dove- Purity and Devotion

.       Dove Descending - Representation of the Holy Spirit

• Flame upturned - Resurrection, eternal life

.       Flame downturned -  Death.

• Flower with Severed Stem- Shortened life.

• Fruits -- Eternal plenty

• Full-Blown Rose -- Prime of Life

• Garland or Wreath- Victory over death.

.       Grapes - The blood of Christ.

.       Grieving Widow - The loss of a husband. Mortality

• Grim Reaper- Death, Mortality.

• Hand, Pointing Up- Pathway to heaven; Heavenly reward.

• Heart- Love; Love of God,  Mortality.

• Hourglass- Passing of time. Sometimes will have wings.

• Ivy -- Friendship and Immortality

.       Lantern/Torch - Mortality. One of the Gravediggers Tools

• Lamb- Innocence. A child of God.

• Laurel Wreath -- Victory over death

• Oak Leaves and Acorn -- Maturity, Ripe Old Age

• Pick- Death, Mortality. One of the Gravediggers Tools

• Rod or Staff- Comfort for the bereaved.

• Roses -- Brevity of earthly existence

• Scythe- Death.

• Seashell- Resurrection; Life everlasting; Life's pilgrimage.

• Skull- Man's Mortality.

• Skull/ Crossed Bones- Death.  Man's Mortality.

• Skeleton- Life's brevity.

• Snake (Tail in Mouth)- Eternal life in heaven.

• Spade- Mortality; Death.  One of the Gravediggers Tools.

• Sun Rising- Renewed life.

• Sun Shining-Life everlasting.

• Sun Setting- Death.

.       Three of Anything - The Holy Trinity of Father, Son & Holy Spirit

• Tombs -- Mortality

• Tree- Life.

• Severed Branch- Mortality.

• Trumpeters -- Heralds of the Resurrection

• Urn- Immortality  (an ancient Egyptian belief was that life would be restored through vital organs placed in an Urn after death)

• Winged Face- Effigy of the deceased soul; the soul in flight. Mortality

• Winged Skull- Flight of the soul from mortal man.  Mortality

• Wreath- Victory.

• Wreath on Skull- Victory of death over life.



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.

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.

Burnham Deepdale grave crop Cley triumphal angel Stanground holy trinity grave snow

The Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is symbolised here at a snowy Stanground near to Peterborough.

A winged hourglass symbolises time flying and brings home the brief timespan of a human life. This grave comes from Burnham Deepdale in Norfolk

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.


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.

Fugit Hora             "Hours are fleeting" or "Time flies"

IHS                          Monogram representing the Greek contraction of Jesus. Sometimes seen as an abbreviation of the Latin phrase "Jesus, Saviour of men".    

Memento Mori       "Remember death".

Tempus Erat          "Time has gone" or "Time has run out".  

IRNI                          Sometimes seen on a banner which reads "Iesus, Nazarenus Rex ludaeorum" Latin for Jesus of Nazareth, King Of The Jews.    

XP "Chi Rho"           The first two Green letters of the word Christ.                                                          

Dove Symbolism Edenham slate grave

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