Today’s guestpost was written by Luann Sewell Waters.
Gravestone Symbolism written by Luann Sewell Waters
Since 2011, I’ve been doing programs and classes on gravestone graphics—what the symbols on tombstones mean. I’m often asked what got me interested in this topic.
I’ve always been interested in history—but gravestones are more than just history. They are also art, architecture and encyclopedias of symbolism. They can give clues to a person’s religion, ethnicity, social memberships, occupation and thoughts on an afterlife.
But I think my interest began in junior high when some girlfriends and I would ride our horses all over the area around Hugo, OK. While doing this, some of the places we’d go were cemeteries.
One stone I’ve always remembered was in Hugo’s city cemetery, Mt. Olivet. The stone was bright white then and really stood out from the more ‘traditional’ grey stones. This marker was on a little girl’s grave and was a statue of a child angel at a cross.
Cynda Ann Huffstetler, August 15, 1954; February 1, 1963.
“Budded on earth to bloom in heaven.”
I was recently back in the area so went to the cemetery to take a photo of the grave. What I hadn’t remembered until I was there to take the photo were the birth and death dates of the girl. Born in 1954, Cynda was born two years after me, but died the year before my family moved to Hugo.
Finally noting the dates, I had to wonder, was the fact she would have been close to my age what sparked my interest in gravestones? Not that I recall; I think it was more the beauty of the marker and the loss her parents must have felt. But her gravestone does present questions–did she have any siblings, what caused her death?
Since I’ve been learning more about the symbolism on gravestones, I looked at Cynda’s stone with more understanding of what it can tell me. The angel is a guide to heaven and is writing in the Book of Life the epitaph, “Budded on earth to bloom in heaven.” The cross can be an emblem of faith but also is for resurrection or salvation. Flowers in general are both for remembrance of the departed and a reminder of the brevity of life while the lily specifically is a symbol for purity and innocence.
This interest has taken me to cemeteries in over 14 states and two other countries. I’ve joined the Association for Gravestone Studies and continue to do more research and take more photos of stones.
I find all graveyards fascinating. As I walk around I read the engraved names and look at the dates. I might notice an especially ornate or interesting symbol-but I’ve never given much thought to the symbolism behind the graphics used on gravestones. After reading Luann’s post I plant to pay closer attention to the symbols next time.
If you’re interested in learning more about gravestone symbols go here.
I hope you enjoyed Luann’s guestpost as much as I did!