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24 September 2014

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You are in: London > History > Cemeteries > Victorian Memorial Symbols

Four gravestones

Tower Hamlets Cemetery

Victorian Memorial Symbols

Take a look around any of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries and you'll notice intricate symbols on headstones - but what do they mean?

Tombstone showing anchor.


Anchor and Chain: symbolises firm faith in salvation

Bird (often a dove)
Flying down: with Holy Spirit
Flying up: the spirit ascending
Perched: like Noah's dove after the flood

Book: The Testament, often open at a suitable page

Broken column: cut off in the prime of life or a loss of support, often denotes head of the family.

Graveestone with broken flower

Broken flower

Broken or severed flower: A sign or early or sudden death. A severed bud denotes a child.

Butterfly: A symbol of resurrection

Celtic cross: Originally associated with the pre-Norman Church particularly in the Celtic fringe areas.

Circle: The sign of eternity.

Clasped hands: Found on family graves and symbolising either the hope of reunification in the next life or 'Farewell, see you soon.'

Gate or arch: Gateway to Heaven.

Gravestone with butterfly


Heart: Love and devotion.

Hour-glass: The transience of this life.

IHS The sacred monogram: an abbreviation of the word for Jesus in Greek.

Ivy: Memories remaining evergreen.

Lamp: The light of knowledge and truth.

Gravestone with clasped hands.

Clasped hands.

Laurel: Wreath Accolade to life's achievements.

Lily: Purity

Lyre: (harp) A recognition of musical talents.

Obelisk: A tall rectangular or triangular pointed column which is the ancient Egyptian symbol for life and health.

Gravestone with serpent


Palette: and brushes The artist's accolade.

Palm: Symbolises the triumph of life over death through resurrection.

Rocks: A reminder of St Peter, the rock of faith.

Rose: Goodness and innocence.

Gravestone of torch


Serpent: Ancient Egyptian symbol for life and health. Swallowing tail: life eternal

Set square and compasses: Usually a Masonic mark but also used to denote an architect.

Torch: The human being.

Tree: The tree of life

Upright: Human Life Entwined by snake: Health Inverted: Life extinguished (hence 'snuffed out')

Gravestone with wreath


Urn: Symbol of death copied from cinerary urns of antiquity.

Wheat Gathered: (harvested) into a new life, often denotes someone dying in later life.

Willow tree: Mourning.

Yew tree: evergreen, life after death

last updated: 09/04/2008 at 14:41
created: 10/05/2005

You are in: London > History > Cemeteries > Victorian Memorial Symbols

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