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A list of some of the most commonly seen tombstone symbols. Learn the meanings of the various carvings, symbols, icons and other funerary art found on gravestones, tombstones and headstones.

•   Animals  •  Figures  •  Latin Phrases  •  Objects  •  Trees & Plants  •

– ANIMALS –

  • ANT : Christian industry
  • BATS (rare): the underworld
  • BEE : resurrection. risen Christ; chastity
  • BIRDS : souls
  • BIRDS FLYING : flight of the soul back to God
  • BUTTERFLY : resurrection; Christian metamorphosis
  • CHRYSALIS : Christian metamorphosis; resurrection
  • COCK : vigilance; St. Peter
  • DOVE DESCENDING : holy ghost
  • DOVE : peace; innocence; purity (7 doves-holy spirit); messenger of God carrying soul to heaven
  • EAGLE: fierceness; ascension: the heavenly conveyor, national emblem of the United States: the military professional, Civil War casualties
  • EAGLE WINGED: St. John, the Evangelist
  • EGG: regeneration
  • FISH: Christ; plentifulness
  • FOX: cruelty; cunning
  • FROG: resurrection
  • HART (deer): the faithful thirsting for God
  • LAMB: Christ; Redeemer; meekness: sacrifice; child; innocence; most common 19th century child’smarker
  • LAMB WITH BANNER: resurrection
  • LION: strength; courage; royalty; power; guardian; fallen hero
  • LION WINGED: St. Mark the Evangelist
  • OX WINGED: St. Luke the Evangelist
  • PEACOCK: immortality; eternity; resurrection; incorruptibility of the flesh
  • PELICAN: feeds young with own blood; redemption through Christ
  • PHOENIX: immortality; baptism
  • RAM: sacrifice
  • ROOSTER: the awakening from the fall from grace; repentance
  • SHEEP & GOATS: Christians and non-believers
  • SERPENT: symbol of death
  • SNAKE: sin; Satan; fall of man
  • SNAKE HOOPED: eternity
  • SNAKE WITH TAIL IN MOUTH: eternity; unity
  • SPHINX: lion represents strength and protection; used to guard entrances
  • SQUIRREL: Christian forethought; spiritual striving
  • STAG: same as hart

– FIGURES –

  • ANGEL: messenger between God & man; guide
  • ANGEL FLYING: rebirth; guardian angel
  • ANGEL TRUMPETING: call to the resurrection
  • ANGEL WEEPING: grief
  • BREASTS: the Divine, nourishing fluid of the soul (17th century); the church; the ministry; the nourishment of the soul
  • CHILD SLEEPING: Victorian death motif
  • DEATH’S HEAD WINGED: mortality
  • EFFIGES: the soul
  • EFFIGES CROWNED: personal reward of righteousness
  • EFFIGES WINGED: the flight of the soul
  • FATHER TIME: mortality, the grim reaper
  • FOUR EVANGELISTS: Matthew, winged man; Mark, winged lion; Luke, winged ox; John, winged eagle
  • HAND OF GOD: pointing downward-mortality, sudden death
  • HAND OF GOD: pointing upward-the reward of the righteous; confirmation of life after death
  • HANDS: devotion, prayer
  • HANDSHAKES: farewell to earthly existence
  • HANDS CLASPED: in death as in life, the devotion of these two is not destroyed
  • IMPS: figures, some winged, some not, doing funeral related tasks; mortality
  • MAN, WINGED: St. Matthew the Evangelist
  • TRUMPETERS: heralds of the resurrection
  • WOMAN WEEPING: mourning; recalls myth of Niobe, whom the gods turned to stone as she wept for her slain children

– LATIN PHRASES –

  • FUGIT HORA: “hours are fleeting”, “time flies”
  • IHS: monogram or symbol representing the Greek contraction of “Jesus”: sometimes regarded as an abbreviation of the Latin phrase meaning “Jesus, Savior of Men”
  • INRI: often seen on a banner of latin cross: “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum”. Latin for Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews (John 12: 19-22)
  • MEMENTO MORI: “remember death”
  • TEMPUS ERAT: “time is gone”; “time has run out”
  • XP: Chi Rho-first two Greek letters of the word “Christ”

– OBJECTS –

  • ALPHA & OMEGA: first and last letters of the Greek alphabet symbolizing the beginning & end of all things, see Revelation 22:13
  • ANCHOR: hope, life eternal; may signify seafaring profession
  • ANVIL: martyrdom
  • ARCH: triumph, victory in death
  • ARK: church; salvation
  • ARK OF NOAH (rare): refuge, salvation
  • ARMOR: protection from evil
  • ARROW: martyrdom, mortality
  • ARROW QUIVER: warlike
  • BANNER: victory; triumph
  • BATTLE AXE: martyrdom
  • BELLS: call to worship
  • BIBLES: resurrection through the scripture; the clergy
  • BOOK: Bible; wisdom
  • BOOKS STACKED: knowledge
  • BRANCH SEVERED: mortality
  • BUGLES: resurrection; the military profession
  • CANDLE BEING SNUFFED: time, mortality
  • CANDLE FLAME: life
  • CANDLESTICK: Christ; devotion
  • CELTIC CROSS: circle on it symbolizes eternity
  • CIRCLE: eternity; or earth
  • CLOCK (rare): passage of time, mortality
  • CLOUDS: the divine abode
  • COATS OF ARMS AND CRESTS: lineage, status
  • COFFINS: mortality
  • COLUMN BROKEN: sorrow; broken life
  • COLUMNS WITH DOORS: heavenly entrance
  • CRESCENT MOON: Virgin
  • CROSS: salvation
  • CROSS WITH RAYS OF RISING SUN: glory
  • CROSS WITH WINDING SHEET: descent from cross
  • CROWN: reward of faithful, victory, triumph, glory; righteousness; resurrection
  • CROWN ON CROSS: sovereignty of Christ
  • CROZIER: bishop
  • CUP: Eucharist
  • DARTS: mortality, dart of death
  • DRAPERY OVER ANYTHING: sorrow; mourning
  • FIELD ARTILLERY (rare): the military profession
  • FINGER: pointing to heaven
  • FLAME: eternity
  • FLEUR-DE-LIS: Virgin; Trinity
  • FLYFOT: swastika
  • GARLAND: victory
  • PORTALS: passageways to the eternal journey
  • PORTRAITS: stylized likenesses of the deceased
  • PYRAMID: symbolic of death
  • ROCK: steadfastness of Christ; stability
  • ROSARY: devotion to Mary
  • SCALES: weighing of souls; justice
  • SCROLL: the law; Scriptures
  • SCYTHE: time, the divine harvest
  • SHELL: pilgrimage: baptism of Christ
  • SHELL, SCALLOP: pilgrim; pilgrim’s journey; resurrection
  • SHIP: the Church
  • SHIPS’ PROFILES: the seafaring profession
  • SHRINE: wisdom; knowledge
  • SKELETONS: mortality, Death
  • SKULL: death; sin
  • SKULL, WINGED: flight of the soul from mortal man
  • SKULLS AND CROSSBONES: mortality
  • STAR: birth-life; Christ
  • STAR, FIVE POINTED: Star of Bethlehem; star of Jacob; divine guidance and protection
  • STAR, SIX POINTER: the Father, Creation, heavenly wisdom
  • SUN: God or Son
  • SUN, SETTING: death
  • SUN, RISING: resurrection; renewed life
  • SUNS, MOONS AND STARS: the reward of the resurrection
  • SWORD: martyrdom; courage; warfare
  • SWORDS, CROSSED: high ranking military person
  • THREE: three points, three leaves, three of any thing-Trinity
  • TOMBS: mortality
  • TORCH: zeal; enlightenment
  • TORCH, INVERTED: extinction of life; death; mourning
  • TORCH, UPRIGHT: immortality, liberty, upright life, the scholastic world, the betrayal of Christ
  • TRUMPET: day of judgment; resurrection
  • URN: soul; mortality
  • URN, DRAPED: death, sorrow
  • WINGED WHEEL: holy spirit
  • YOKE: burden-bearing; service; patience

– TREES & PLANTS –

  • ALMOND: favor from God; Virgin birth
  • APPLE: sin; Eve
  • BELLFLOWER: gratitude
  • BOUQUETS: condolences, grief
  • BUDS: renewal of life
  • CEDAR: strong faith; length of days; success
  • CYPRUS: sorrow; death; eternal life, Roman symbol for mourning
  • EASTER LILY: modern flower symbolic of resurrection
  • EVERGREENS: immortality
  • FLOWER: brevity of earthly existence, sorrow; certain flowers may symbolize emotions, particular aspirations, attitudes, both religious and secular
  • FLOWER, BROKEN: premature death
  • FRUIT: eternal plenty
  • FRUIT AND VINE: Jesus Christ; the Christian church
  • GOURDS: the coming to be and passing away of all earthly matters
  • IVY: abiding memory, friendship, fidelity
  • LAUREL: victory, triumph, glory
  • LILY, LILIES: resurrection, purity
  • LOTUS: Egyptian water lily and ornament
  • OAK: supernatural power and strength; eternity
  • OLIVE: peace; healing faith
  • PALM: spiritual victory over death; martyrdom; reward of the righteous; peace; a plant whose leaves resemble a hand
  • PINEAPPLE: hospitality
  • POMEGRANATE: immortality; resurrection; unity; nourishment of the soul
  • POPPY: symbolic of sleep, therefore, death
  • ROSES: condolonce, sorrow; the brevity of earthly existence; of English descent-the Tudor rose
  • SHEAVES OF WHEAT: time, the divine harvest
  • STRAWBERRY: righteousness; humility
  • THISTLE: of Scottish descent; the inevitability of death, remembrance
  • TREE: faith; life; the Tree of Life
  • TREE, FELLED: mortality
  • TREE TRUNK, BROKEN: premature death
  • VINE: Christian church; Christ; wine, the symbolic blood of Jesus; the sacraments
  • WHEAT SHEAVES: the divine harvest
  • WILLOW, WEEPING: grief; death (carried at Masonic funerals); earthly sorrow, the symbolic tree of human sadness, Nature’s lament
  • WREATH: victory in death, indestructible crown worn by triumphant Christian; eternity
  • WREATH WORN BY SKULL: victory of death over life
  • YEW: immortality