Time for part II of our Graveyard Art series. But first of all a big Thank You! for all the feedback on our first post. Debbi and I are really happy that you enjoyed our art while – possibly – learning some interesting facts about graveyard art. Speaking of which, Debbi has also got her own blog, check it out here. But now it is time for the next set of questions that Debbi will answer.


There are burials and cremations ~ want to tell us a little about their history? Possibly what different beliefs are important (e.g. facing east/west)?

1st Presbyterian Church, Morristown, cemetery, graveyardtomb, burial vault, crypt

That is a chicken before the egg question, burial versus cremation.  Throughout time there has been both, depending upon the religious and spiritual beliefs of the people of a particular culture.  Cemeteries as we know them today are a fairly recent phenomena in a historical and archeological sense, and there are numerous and complex reasons for how cemeteries have evolved over time. Two concepts come to mind. 1.  In Europe, people of wealth were buried either under the church floors or just outside of the church.  2.  Somewhere along the line the people figured out the health issue this presented and moved the burials to a space apart from the church.  Over time, they moved further away.  Each cemetery will have its own unique historical reasons behind how it was created and how it has evolved over the ages.  Gothic Dark ArtOne example:  Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans.  This started out as a racetrack but the owner of the land/track, although a prominent business man, was denied membership in a certain prestigious club.  Out of spite he sold the race track to the City for use as a cemetery.  As far as facing east, this is a Christian practice.  The head would be to the west and the feet would be placed to the east, with east being the direction of the Second Coming.  However, this burial practice actually pre-dates Christianity by thousands of years, and can be found in numerous cultures that practiced a “sun-based belief system” of worship.


Are there famous graveyards? If yes, why?

Pere Lechaise in Paris France comes to mind here.  Highgate Cemetery in London.  Sadly, there is very little written work about these two places outside of research texts and guidebooks and a few picture books here and there.  But it is worth googling these two for images  These two represent, to me, the ultimate cemetery experience, and anyone who has a chance to visit them should include them in their itinerary.


In your experience the best or most famous graveyard in the US?

The old cemeteries around New Orleans, or as they are called, “the Cities of the Dead”.  Because of the extremely high water table in this area, in ground burials just did not work.  A good rain or flood would cause the coffins in some cases  to literally explode out of the ground!  So, to avoid this, people were buried in crypts, mausoleums, wall ovens, etc. , and were re-used by family members down through time.  Many of the crypts and mausoleums resemble houses, churches, etc., and the sculptures and art on the structures is beautiful.  The way the larger cemeteries are laid out, they truly resemble small cities, with street signs and roadways!


Interpreting graveyard symbols:


20130105-025 Hands with fingers pointing up indicate the pathway to heaven.

Hands clasped indicate unity, marriage, devotion.

Hands holding axes or broken chains indicate a life cut short or a death that breaks the family chain.

Not as common is a hand with finger pointing down.  Knee jerk reaction might be that the person buried there went to someplace a bit hot.  However, it means God reaching down for the soul.

Winged skulls: Why are there really gruesome skulls and some are sun or angel like?

Depending on the location and age of the stone (usually 1700s to early 1800s and in the New England areas), the Puritans and other early settlers in the U.S. who had similar religious beliefs, used the winged skull image or death head as a way to remind people of their mortality, and also because they felt that this particular image could be considered a sacred but not graven image or an idolatrous image.  The skull images that incorporate a more angel-like appearance are another stylized version of the same ideal, and these are called Angels of Death.  Over time, these images morphed into the winged-cherub images we see in cemeteries of later eras.

20121223-01420121228-063  20121230-052 20121230-068

I am linking this post to letter ‘H for hands’ of round 6 of Alphabe- Thursday hosted by Jenny Matlock. If you have a moment please visit their websites and check out other bloggers’ work.
Jenny Matlock
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self portrait, Claudia Willison, ImagesByCW

Claudia is founder, owner and soul of ImagesByCW Photography. Born in Germany, traveled though Europe and Australia, she currently lives with her American husband in New Jersey, USA. She blogs about what she loves: Photography, art, internet and computers in general, as well as cooking and windsurfing. When not working she enjoys reading, music, windsurfing and listening to the sound of waves and the wind, preferably together with her husband.

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