June 19, 2020

Gravestone Symbolism: What Do They Mean?

You probably have noticed that every headstone looks different. Not just in shape, size, and type of material they’re made out of, but even the designs carved into them. There’s an endless slew of symbols that can be etched into stone, with a ton of them having a greater meaning than just that of an image. This five-part list will list some of the most common symbols used on headstones, and why it’s used, along with some pictures of what they look like.

Anchor: Hope and Steadfast

The anchor carries a lot of symbolism with it, meaning hope and steadfastness. Often found on a sailors’ gravestone to represent the life of a sailor, the anchor can also be disguised as a cross to guide the way to secret meeting places. An anchor with a severed chain represents death, in most cases prematurely. 

Book: Knowledge, Faith, Wisdom

A book, either opened or closed, means knowledge, wisdom, and faith. This type of symbolism is typically found on the headstones of scholars, writers, and faithful individuals. An image of a book can also represent the Book of Life or the Bible. 

Broken Column: Early Death

A broken column symbolizes a life that has been cut too short and, in some cases, death in the prime of life. Sometimes draped, the column can also mean the ‘break’ from the living and the dead.

Dove: Purity, Peace, Hope

A symbol of hope, as Noah released the dove as he saw the floods seemingly subside and the dove returning back to Noah on the Ark with an olive branch, meaning it had found land. The dove also means purity and peace. A dove with a cross depicted on the beak symbolizes the Holy Ghost.

Lamb: Purity, Innocence

A lamb, or Lamb of God, is typically found on children’s graves for purity and innocence. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:36, John 1:29). The lamb is also one of the most common images depicted on a child’s grave.

This is just a fraction of what other symbolic imagery is out there. Take a look around the cemetery next time and look for some of these symbols, and search for new ones you haven’t seen before. Don’t be afraid to create your own design, also. Anything can be carved in stone, but having a meaning to it makes it all the more memorable.

1 Comment

  1. I had no idea that a book on a headstone is used to represent knowledge and is usually used for writers. My late brother always enjoyed keeping a journal next to his bed so that he could write down ideas in the middle of the night, and I would like people to remember him for his intellectual and creative personality. Maybe I should find a service that can help me engrave something meaningful on his headstone.


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