Sunday Legends-Carved in Stone

Sherman New York June 2012

Coimetrophobia is the fear of cemetaries.  By contrast, taphophilia is the love of cemetaries and headstones in particular.

March is my birth month and I’ve decided to indulge the strange cross roads that is my love of funerary culture and my research interests, should I be lucky enough find myself back in school.

The combination of the lasting nature of headstones plus the inherent blankness of their form create the perfect canvas for symbolism. Many of these images have been present on the tombstone as we know it for centuries, and are still used with some frequency. Imagery such as the weeping willow and the guardian angel are echoed throughout western cemetaries, but many of the symbols are recognizable for their place in graveyards but not necessarily their meaning.


At one time an anchor was placed on headstones and tombs as an undergrounn method of expressing Christian faith. More recently the anchor has been used to symbolize that the person buried there was a sailor, and is connected with St. Nicholas. The anchor also symbolizes hope. Anchors are also frequently found on the gravestones of Masons.

Flying Bird

The flight of the soul into the afterlife.


The cypress tree on a headstone indicates hope.


The presence of drapery in funerary statuary implies the act of mourning.


Pineapples and figs both represent prosperity and eternal life.


Ivy garlands may represent eternal life or eternal friendship due to ivy almost always staying green.


While the lamb is a historically established image of Christ, the lamb is almost always used to denote a child’s grave. The lamb as a young animal is used on head markers to suggest youth or innocence.

For more symbols, please see these sites-

Headstone Symbolism

Gravestone Symbolism–with photos

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