Gravestone Symbols and What They Mean

If you ever visited a cemetery, particularly an older one, you’ve likely noticed many different symbols and sculptures adorning graves.  What you may not know is that they all have a special meaning, standing as a last message to the world to tell a tale of the person lying beneath it.  

You may decide you want to have a specific symbol yourself, but which one will best tell your story?  Here we go through a list of more common symbols, both so you can have the consideration for your own tombstone and so you can better understand the messages left by those who have come before.  

SymbolNameWhat It Means
Alpha and OmegaThe Greek symbols for A and Z, Alpha and Omega are often used together to represent the totality of the power of Christ.  
American FlagPatriotic symbol, often chosen for veterans and those involved in government and military. 
AnchorAncient symbol of safety, in the Christian religion a symbol of hope and steadfastness.
AngelSymbol of spirituality, messenger from God.  
Order of the ElksUsed by members of the Order of the Elks, the largest fraternal organization in the United States.
BookCan have multiple meanings, such as the Book of Life, the Bible, or can adorn the grave of scholars, theologians, and authors.  
Calla LilyA Victorian era symbol of beauty, marriage, and resurrection.
Celtic CrossRepresents eternity.
Broken ColumnSymbolizes a life cut short.
Daughters of RebekahAn auxiliary of the Order of the Oddfellows
DoveRepresents a soul ascending to heaven
Draped UrnThe shroud represents the veil between life and death.  The urn itself is said to be a symbol of immortality. 
Eastern Orthodox CrossThe Eastern Orthodox Cross is also referred to as the Russian, Ukraine, Slavic and Byzantine Cross. 
Hands – Pointing FingerSymbolizes pointing to God if pointing up, or God pointing to the deceased if pointing down.  A symbol of eternal life. 
HorseshoeSymbolizes protection from evil, but can also be used by someone who spent a lot of their life around horses.  
Ivy & VinesRepresents friendship, fidelity, and immortality
Knights of PythiasSymbols of the fraternal organization often include the letters F B C – which stand for friendship, benevolence and charity 
Laurel Wreathrepresents victory, distinction, eternity or immortality.
LionA guardian of the tomb from evil spirits, also used as a symbol of God.
Oak Leaves & Acornssignifies strength, honor, longevity and steadfastness.
Olive BranchSymbolizes that the soul has found peace resting with God.
Sleeping ChildLike the lamb, this often adorns the graves of children. 
SphinxA popular symbol en vogue during the victorian era along with the obelisk.
Square & CompassA Masonic symbol of faith and reason. The letter G usually found in the center of the square and compass is said to represent “geometry” or “God.”
Torch, InvertedSymbolizes the extinguishing of life.
Tree Trunk TombstoneSymbolizes the brevity of life. 
WheelRepresents the circle of life.
Woodmen of the WorldThis symbol signifies membership in the Woodmen of the World fraternal organization.

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