Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Online resources for understanding tombstone symbols

Grave marker at the United Church Cemetery, Lower Island Cove.

People often ask "what does this particular symbol mean on this tombstone" but there is not always a clear answer. It isn't always possible to know why a particular symbol was chosen for a grave marker or memorial. Sometimes people picked symbols from a catalogue, or went with a motif seen on another family member's stone.

Symbolism is the practice or art of using an object or a word to represent an abstract idea. Tombstone carvers used (and continue to use) symbolism to hint at ideas or refer to larger stories, without having to explain those stories or ideas in detail.

Meanings of symbols shift and change over time, and motifs on gravestones often reflect the culture which created the work, and can have multiple meaning. Similar symbols may be regarded differently by ethnic groups or religions.

Having said that, if you want some general ideas about what tombstone designs might mean, here are a few websites to get you started:

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