Graveyard Art III

Welcome to part III of Debbi’s and my Graveyard Art series. For those of you here the first time you might want to check out part I and  part II of our co-production. While Debbi is the expert on the subject, please do check out her blog, I have supplied most of the photos to our post. Aaaand here we go.


How do you like this headstone, Debbi? I think the inscription is really sweet.

Claudia, the collection of stones that you have captured in this series are wonderful, and all appear very well preserved considering their age.  You have also captured a great selection of symbols and stone shapes that are not that common down south.  In fact, the lotus flower carving is one that I have never seen in person before!

Angel inscription headstone

Why are some graves are highly decorated and others are hardly visible e.g. only a stone marker with one letter on it?

I think it depends on the financial situation of the deceased and family.  Religious beliefs play a factor regarding the embellishment, or lack thereof.  Membership in certain fraternities and secret societies allowed the deceased to have a particular design or symbol evident on the headstone. Vanity can certainly play a factor too.  Who hasn’t heard a story about the person who had to have the biggest, the best and the most prominent everything in life and for sure was not going to leave this world without having the same for their grave site!  The era of the stone will also play a factor regarding decorations and visibility.  Stones from the 1700s to the beginning of the 1800s might not have much decoration due to the religious taboos against graven images.


I came across quite a few big, rectangular monuments in cemeteries. Often times with several names engraved. What are they?

Monument, shrine, family

Monument, shrine, familyThose are family crypts that contain more than one person in that particular plot.  Some may only contain the cremains, others may contain the entire casket of each person.  And, there may be some that are simply a memorial for the family or for war casualties, and will have no interments.


Interpreting graveyard symbols:


Boulder headstoneLions are guardians of the graves.  Dogs represent devotion and loyalty and can also be used as a guardian of a child’s grave.

Stones that look like huge boulders or rocks can indicate a Christian reference to the Rock of Ages, and can also represent a life cut short, as generally these are only partially carved and mostly only carved with the name and birth/death dates.

weeping, willow, headstonetree, axe, gravestoneTrees / Tree with axe:  weeping willows represent grief and sorrow.  Axes represent life cut short.  Trees that appear to be sprouting mean rebirth or everlasting life.

If you see a monument that is a fully carved actual stone tree, with other symbols included in the carving, that stone belongs to a member of a fraternal society called Woodmen of the World.  This particular type of stone was only available to the members, however, and these stones were discontinued sometime in the 1920s.

vase, urn, headstoneVase / Urn monumentVase/Urn: immortality.  This is a direct reference to the Egyptian practice of placing the organs in urns for preservation and subsequently the use of them by the deceased in the afterlife.  Urns were popular during the Victorian Egyptian Revival period.


monogram, headstone, carvingHourglass: References the end of time on earth or that the deceased’s time has run out.


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10 thoughts on “Graveyard Art III”

  1. Once again, I really enjoyed this series. I love weeping willows and although they mean sorrow and loss on a grave, I’ve always thought of them as comforting. Like they want to wrap you up in their arms and swing you to the sky. I would love to have a willow planted on my grave.

  2. This is so interesting. Graveyards here seem so boring and plain. The graveyard were members of my family are buried (in Germany) is so interesting to wander through. You see history there and stories. And people tend to the graves, planting seasonal flowers and shrubs.

    • You know what, Susi. While living in Germany I have only visited the graveyard where my dad found his final rest in a pretty modern part of the cemetery. Next time I visit Germany, or I should say, my hometown in Germany, I will explore a little deeper. But you are certainly right about how much people tend to the graves of their loved ones.

  3. Hi Jamie and Susie! Jamie, Willows are a favorite of mine too. In addition to the cemetery symbolism, they stand for wisdom and eloquence. Susie, I agree that the more modern cemeteries in the U.S. are very boring. Most of the ones that will have art and inscriptions are the ones that date to earlier eras, especially those opened before the mid 20th century. I am not exactly sure when the “modern” cemeteries came into vogue here in the U.S., but I do know it has to do with simplicity of care, and better use of real estate alotted to allow more plots.

    • Wisdom and eloquence in a willow – I like that. Learned something new again 🙂 I second your thoughts on ‘simplicity of care and better use of real estate’, because that seems to be a general development.

  4. Over here in Germany, there is a slight trend to “Friedwald” or “Ruheforst” – both play with the words wood/forest and having a cemetery under trees. You are buried after cremation and a sign with your name is attached to the tree. You can have family trees with enough space for up to 12 family members, but also share a tree with strangers,… Do you have this concept also in the U.S.?` Simplicity of care applies here also…


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