An A-Z Guide to Common Cemetery Icons
Below you will find an alphabetical listing of common icons found in many cemeteries. Each symbol has its own
unique meaning. Thus, when carved on headstones, each symbol silently suggests the life story of the people the
symbol comes to represent.
As an early Christian symbol, the anchor alludes to St. Clement who is often depicted with an anchor and fish
(Wikipedia). On occasion, between the 18th and 19th century, this symbol may have represented someone who has
a seafaring profession (Leimer). This symbol may also denote hope (Anon).
Although the Ankh has been around since the Egyptians; this symbol would not have been popular in colonial
times. It stands as a symbol of reincarnation, peace, prosperity, and eternal life.
The arrow can suggest martyrdom, were like qualities, or mortality.
Found on headstones slightly over a decade old, these symbols apparently represent the hobbies that the
deceased participated in at one time. Other common symbols representing the deceased’s hobbies exist in cemetery
art as well.
The Bible denotes wisdom (Weeden). It may often represent the divine word of God or personal
The Caduceus depicts the symbol of a physician or the healer. The symbol itself consists two snakes entwined
around a staff and the symbol stand as an emblem for healers (Merriam-Webster's).
The dove is common to Christian decor and symbolizes peace and the Holy Ghost or Spirit. It also signifies the
human soul (Anon).
A dragon is the symbol of Imperial Power, the universe, and chaos (GAzis-Sax).
The Eye of God
This symbol appears significantly similar to the 16th century painting, "The Eye of God.” It signifies that God is
universal, and sees all, including sins.
The Firemen Emblem
The hose and ladder emblems can often be found on headstones representing individuals that were at one time
part of the Fire Department.
The knot work on a Celtic Cross is a pagan symbol. The intertwining knots symbolize eternity (Weeden). In our
era, the Celtic Cross may represent someone of Irish descent. It is interesting to note that each cemetery surveyed
displayed at least one Celtic Cross.
The Crescent Moon
The crescent moon may represent virginity (Weeden). It may also suggest rebirth, and victory
The cross is a symbol of Christian faith. Thus, this is an extremely common symbol among local
The Crown was popular in 18th century New England as a symbol of righteousness (Leimer).
Such a symbol signifies the hand of righteousness (Weeden). It also suggests the pathway or ascension and the
elevated realms of heaven.
This symbol is common among married couples; indicating marriage, or farewell (Reid).
Also a common Christian symbol; the symbol indicates prayers and hopes for attaining life after death.
This symbol differs from the marriage symbol, in that the sleeves denote male and female in the latter. This
symbol suggests loyalty and friendship even after death (Reid).
This symbol may simply denote the deceased's love of horses however, to some that may mean a reference to
Saints Martin, Maurice, and Victor, all signifying horseback riding (Anon).
An hourglass, depicted without wings, is a symbol of passing time or Father Time (Anon).
This icon may be depicting the deceased's affinity for hummingbirds. Yet, viewed as an animal totem, this bird
represents the notion of wisdom, joy, and happiness (Evridge).
There seems to be a bit of confusion regarding the symbol: Some view it as the Greek symbol for Jesus, Savior
of Men and thus sometimes it is viewed as in hoc salus which literally means" there is safety in this" or “in
this safety” (Weeden). IHS is sometimes translated as Iesus Hominum Salvator, which means “Jesus,
Man, Savior or the Saver of Men.” In other instances, IHS is sometimes translated as In Hoc Signo,
which translates as “In This Sign, Ye Will Conquer.
A Lily is representative of purity and resurrection because of its white color (kewebshop). In Christian art, the
Lily is a symbol associated with the Virgin Mary, as well as the Immaculate Conception.
Ivy signifies regeneration, immortality, friendship, and faithfulness (Leimer).
One common Masonic symbol that looks like a pentagram with various symbols, is the icon associated with The
Order of the Eastern Star. Another common symbol is that of a compass and square and is the symbol for masons,
which stands for faith and reason. The "G" located in the middle of the Masonic symbol stands for God
This icon suggests a full, long life with children (Hawkins). Pine cones have many seeds in them, which makes it
the ideal symbol for fertility and regeneration, or live after death and immortality achieved through one's
The Rose signifies completion, perfection, and achievement. In Christian Art, the Rose is symbolic of grace and
compassion or love. An eight-pedaled rose signifies regeneration (Leimer). The Rose is also a pagan symbol
associated with the Goddess.
The ship may be an icon that suggests the deceased's fascination with such. It also indicates the Christian faith
and that the ship of faith can carry one through the world, as well as safely into the afterlife (Anon).
This icon suggests the spirit. For someone of pagan beliefs, it may suggest the four cardinal directions and
Akasha; the symbol of all the elements and the spirit (Hawkins). As a Christian insignia, it comes to mean the tale of
the birth of Christ.
The Sunset represents death, rebirth, and the promise of everlasting life. In art, the sun is a symbol associated
with Christ, and the sunset can represent the ending of one’s life and the entry of an individual into the Kingdom of
Heaven. Sunsets are also associated with the cardinal direction of the West and are therefore associated with
endings. In some pagan belief systems, the sunset is associated with the Summerlands.
The wheat icon suggests time and the divine harvest. It also suggests that we "reap what we sow" and that we
will return to the divine harvester (Weeden).
The Willow Tree
The Willow Tree is German in origin, and represents sorrow: especially the weeping willow (Leimer).
Winged figures indicate the flight of the soul (Hardy). Angels also represent the higher realm, a higher state of
existence or consciousness, and can be a symbol representing guardianship or protection.
The Wreath symbolizes the victory of a good life and therefore, victory over death. It also suggests the circle of
The Urn stands as an icon of death; ashes of the deceased who have been cremated are often stored in urns.
They are sometimes seen alone, or with willow trees and drapes: drapes suggest the final curtain of life (Hardy).
Since the Urn is a vessel, it can also represent to act of returning to the Goddess, or the womb of
Woman with Anchor
A woman with an anchor is the Masonic symbol of hope (Hawkins).
Anon. "The Symbols: The Anchor." Tomb with a View. World Wide Web. 2003.
http://members.aol.com/TombView/symbol2.html. 22 Nov 2003.
“---”. "The Symbols: The Ankh." Tomb with a View. World Wide Web. 2003.
http://members.aol.com/TombView/symbol2.html. 22 Nov 2003.
“---”. The Symbols: The Book." Tomb with a View. World Wide Web. 2003. http://members.aol.com/TombView/symbol2.html. 22 Nov 2003.
“---”. "The Symbols: The Moon." Tomb with a View. World Wide Web. 2003. http://members.aol.com/TombView/symbol2.html. 22 Nov 2003.
“---”. "Gravestone Symbols: Cross." Callaway County, Missouri Journal. World Wide Web.27 Feb 2002. .22Nov
“---”. "Tombstone and Art Symbols: Dove." An Excerpt from the Sexton Book of Tales. World Wide Web. http://tales.co.uk/index-atozart.html. 23 Nov 2003.
“---”. "Tombstone and Art Symbols: Horse." An Excerpt from the Sexton Book of Tales. World Wide Web. http://tales.co.uk/index-atozart.html. 23 Nov 2003.
“---”. "Tombstone and Art Symbols: Hourglass." An Excerpt from the Sexton Book of Tales. World Wide Web. http://tales.co.uk/index-atozart.html. 23 Nov 2003.
“---”. "Tombstone and Art Symbols: Ship." An Excerpt from the Sexton Book of Tales. World Wide Web. http://tales.co.uk/index-atozart.html. 23 Nov 2003.
“---”. "Tombstone and Art Symbols: “Willow." An Excerpt from the Sexton Book of Tales. World Wide Web. 23 Nov 2003.
Baym, Nina. "William Cullen Bryant, Thanatopsis." The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Volume A. 6e.
Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 2003. 1073.
El Dorado County., "Benjamin Franklin quotation." Pioneer's Cemetery Commission. World Wide Web. 13 Oct 2003. http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ca/county/eldorado1/. 23 Nov 2003.
Evridge, Judy, L., "Hummingbirds." A Hummingbird as a Guardian Spirit? Suite 101. 1999. World Wide Web. www.suite101.com/article.cfm/4660/25081. 23 Nov 2003.
GAzis-Sax, Joel. "Learn the Language of Symbolism: Dragon." Cemetery Symbolism: A Wary Glossary. 1997. World Wide Web. http://www.alsirat.com/symbols/index.html/. 23. Nov 2003.
“---”. "Learn the Language of Symbolism: Wreath." Cemetery Symbolism: A Wary Glossary. 1997. World Wide Web. http://www.alsirat.com/symbols/index.html. 23 Nov 2003.
Original Posting at Suite101.com.
Article written by: Dayna Winters
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