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Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Historic Preservation & Archaeology > Learn About Topics > Cemeteries > Cemetery Symbolism Cemetery Symbolism

Historic Preservation and ArchaeologyCemetery markers often have intricate patterns and symbols carved upon them. These symbols usually possess special meanings to those buried there or transmit messages to those visiting--acting as subtle reminders of the deceased or perhaps offering advice to those remaining behind. Below you will find the meanings of some of the symbols commonly found on tombstones around Indiana.

Symbols:

Anchor

Anchor

The anchor typically symbolizes hope and often served as a symbol for Christ and his anchoring influence upon the lives of Christians. In seaside areas, the anchor also served as a symbol for seamanship and usually marked the grave of a dedicated seaman.

 

Bird(s)

Bird(s)

Birds, especially in flight, represent the flight of the soul to the afterlife. Eagles are used to represent a military or American patriotic background. A dove symbolized the Holy Spirit and/or peace. The pelican represented sacrifice, sometimes acting as a symbol of Christ's sacrifice, because of a medieval legend that featured a pelican piercing its own breast to feed its young.

Book(s)

Book(s)

A book featured on a tombstone usually represents the Bible and symbolizes faithfulness. Some ministers and other learned individuals decorated their graves with book symbols that represented their scholarly achievements.

Column

Column

A column is usually representative of a man or woman's life. A broken column symbolizes a person's break with life or a life cut short.

Cross

Cross

Although its symbolic meaning goes back to much earlier times and has other uses, The cross acted as an early symbol for Christ and his sacrifice and developed into one of the most potent symbols of the Christian faith. There are several varieties of cross including the Greek Cross (+), The Latin Cross (†), the Tau Cross (Τ), and the crux decussata (×)

Crown

Crown

The crown represents the glory of life after death, Heavenly reward, or the deceased's ascension to Heaven.

Gates or Bars

Gates or Bars

Gates or a barred entrance symbolizes the gates of Heaven; the entrance of the departed into the glorious realm of the divine.

Hands

Hands

Hands can symbolize many things depending on their position and gesture. A hand with an upward pointing finger means the deceased has traveled upward to Heaven and is an indicator of a just and divine reward. Two hands grasping one another typically symbolizes eternal friendship or eternal love (often used for married couples). Hands clasped in prayer depict the deceased as a pious person in life.

Heart

Heart

A heart can symbolize many things. Chief among these are love. Whether love of God or love of another, such as a spouse or family, the heart is used to symbolizes devotion to something or someone. It can also represent mortality and the essence of life.

Hourglass

Hourglass

The hourglass is a symbol of time. Usually this image depicts time's passing and the inevitability of death. An hourglass indicates that that person's time on earth expired and implies that visitors should embrace life because it, much like the flow of the sand in an hourglass, is finite and will eventually end.