Funerary Art Symbolism
Oakdale Cemetery is abundant with a variety of funerary art and lore. Most people who visit seem to always say that there is no other place like it that they have ever been to. Oakdale Cemetery was established in 1852 during the Victorian and Antebellum era of the mid to late 1800’s. During this time, cemeteries were just beginning to be established in the United States. Although symbolism has gone on for centuries it seemed that during this period, cemetery symbolism hit an all time high. Artisans were called upon to construct stones for loved ones that were carved into works of art and beauty. The carvings were very elaborate and had a special meaning to each person. As symbolism and iconography grew increasingly popular, the public had a multitude of ideas that could have been chosen from.
This guide will help you identify and interpret some symbols that come from cemetery carvings. Please enjoy this publication and use it in other cemeteries to see if your ancestors carried on this tradition.
A sheaf of wheat symbolizes longevity and fruitfulness. It denotes that one has lived a long and fruitful life.
The Palm symbolizes victory or triumph over death. It characterizes the triumphant entry and the resurrection.
The Tulip symbolizes charity and the declaration of ones love.
The Passion Flower symbolizes all the symbols of passion. The ovary is shaped like the hammer used to drive the nails. There are five stamens, symbolical of the five wounds. The rays within the flower form a nimbus, symbolical of the Lords divine glory. The leaf is shaped like a spear which pierced His heart. The ten petals represent the ten apostles. The flower blooms but three days, representing the time which Jesus lay in the tomb.
The Morning Glory symbolizes the Resurrection since the flower blooms in the morning and is closed by afternoon.
The Lily of the Valley symbolizes innocence, purity and virginity. The lily of the valley grants also significance as one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring thus symbolizing renewal.
The Oak symbolizes many items such as strength, endurance, honor, faith and virtue.
The Easter Lily symbolizes purity, innocence and the virgin. It can also represent like other flowers do, the loss of an early life. As pictured, the flower has bloomed, but broken off early before waning symbolizing the fact that ones life was cut short.
The Weeping Willow symbolizes immortality. This was one of the most used symbols of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for cemetery symbolism.
The Rose symbolizes love. It has been known to be the queen of flowers due to its fragrance and beauty. It does adorn many children’s graves as a rose bud that has not opened with a broken stem. The more full the bloom the longer one lived.
The Fern symbolizes humility, solitude and sincerity.
The Calla Lilly symbolizes marriage and fidelity.
The Laurel Wreath symbolizes victory in death and remembrance.
The Tree Stone symbolizes life cut short. This particular tree stone shows two out of one trunk symbolizing marriage of the two. But most tree stones were made for the fact a person did not live a long life. The woodman of the world used this style stone for their organization to have them stand apart from other stones.
The Dove symbolizes peace and purity. The dove can also be seen diving from the heavens with an olive branch or a cross in its beak, this action symbolizes the Holy Ghost.
The Lamb symbolizes innocence. The lamb has been used in Christian symbols for many years. It usually marks the graves of children.
The Flaming Torch symbolizes enlightenment. The flaming torch can be found in a few different angles. One that is upright signifies life, while one that is inverted (pictured) signifies life is extinguished. Two torches signifies Christ the light of the World.
A Book symbolizes the Bible or how ones life is recognized. An open book (pictured) can be compared to a person with an open heart and that their thoughts and feelings were open to the world and God. A closed book can signify that ones life is completed and that the story has been told.
The Anchor symbolizes hope. The anchor is used in symbols of ones livelihood as a seaman or captain.
The Cross and Crown symbolizes passion or sovereignty of the Lord. As there are many crosses that can be found in a cemetery the cross with the crown can be seen in different forms but is still revealed as ones passion to the Lord.
The Star symbolizes heaven. Stars can be seen in various forms as well and there meaning can differ. Depending on the number of points it can signify many symbolic features such as: Four pointed star- the cross Etoile; Five pointed star – the Epiphany or the star of Jesse or Jacob and heavenly wisdom; Seven pointed star – the seven gifts of the Holy ghost; Nine pointed star – the nine fruits of the Holy Ghost; The Star of David – Jewish symbol a symbol of divine protection.
The All Seeing Eye with rays of light symbolizes God. Heavily used as a Masonic symbol. The Heart in the Hand indicates love and faithfulness.
The Hand coming from above symbolizes God reaching down from heaven.
The Handshake symbolizes matrimony. These hands are seen as one female and one male. Hands that seem the same when looking at the cuffs, indicate an earthly farewell.
The hand with a finger pointing upward symbolizes that the soul has gone to the heavens.
Types and Styles of Stones
Tympanium Headstones early 1800’s
Pointed Arch with Caps Headstone
Tab in Socket Headstone
Die on Base Headstone
Die, Base and Cap Headstone
Pedestal Headstone with Urn
Government Issue – General Type
Government Issue - Confederate
Revolutionary War Headstones