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Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Historic Preservation & Archaeology > Learn About Topics > Cemeteries > Cemetery Symbolism > I - R 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:

Ivy

Ivy

The evergreen leaves of the ivy represent immortality. Tombstones and mausoleums frequently feature depictions of ivy to symbolize the afterlife and immortal nature of the human soul.

Lamb

Lamb

The lamb represents the Redeemer, Christ in the Christian religion. The lamb can also represent innocence and virtue.

Lamp

Lamp

A lamp represents the eternal flame that dispels the darkness. It can be used as a metaphor for knowledge or for religion, banishing the darkness of ignorance or evil. Like a candle, the lamp can also represent the flame of life, eventually extinguished by death.

Lily

Lily

Like the lamb, the lily represents innocence, chastity and purity. In tradition, the first lilies appeared as a sorrowful Eve shed a tear upon being banished from the Garden of Eden. Lilies symbolize the restoration of innocence and purity after death.

Memento mori

Memento mori

Memento mori are simply symbols of death, like skeletons, skulls, grim reapers, and decomposing human remains, used to remind the viewer to remember and prepare for their own impending death. Memento mori grew popular in the Middle Ages in Europe and served as a warning to visitors to repent and maintain their religious moorings because eventually death will claim them too.

Obelisk

Obelisk

The obelisk, an ancient Egyptian sun-worshipping symbol, represents rebirth and the spiritual connections between Heaven and Earth--or life and the afterlife. The obelisk was a popular Victorian grave symbol.

Pyramid

Pyramid

The pyramid, the colossal Egyptian stone tombs of old, represent resurrection, eternal life, spiritual power, and enlightenment.

Rooster

Rooster

The rooster on a tomb or grave marker represents the Resurrection or reawakening in the next life. The rooster can also symbolize vigilance and courage.

Rose

Rose

The rose is an ancient symbol of love and beauty often representing feminine figures such as Venus or the Virgin Mary. Similarly, the rose serves as a symbol for perfection, especially in regards to physical beauty or other virtues. It can also represent silence or secrecy. This meaning derives from a Greek myth in which Cupid offers the rose as a gift to convince Harpocrates, God of Secrets, to keep silent about Venus' affairs.