Symbolic Art on Gravestones
Symbolic Art on Gravestones

Symbolic art on gravestones

Gravestones are more than a way to memorialise loved ones. They can often be works of art and have symbols with special meanings to those left behind. Symbolism has been a part of cemeteries for centuries, although the images have changed over time. Headstone symbols commonly found churchyards and cemeteries in the UK includes Anchors, Angels, Broken Columns, Celtic Cross, Crowns, Doves and many more. A brief interpretation of a few can be found below. Although this is not an extensive list, it is a work in progress.

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IHS Symbol

Iesus Hominem Salvator (Jesus Saviour of Mankind). The letters are known as a christogram, a combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ.


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Angels found in the cemetery are a symbol of spirituality. They guard the tomb and are thought to be messengers between God and man.


Headstone Celtic Cross Symbol
Celtic cross

The Celtic or Irish cross, taking the form of a cross within a circle, generally represents eternity.


Headstone Crown Symbol

A symbol of glory of life after death. But in order to decipher the true meaning, you need to look at the other symbols shown on the headstone.


Headstone Dove Symbol

Seen in both Christian and Jewish cemeteries, the dove is a symbol of resurrection, innocence and peace. A dove carrying a cross symbolizes the Holy Ghost.


Headstone Finger Symbol

A hand with the index finger pointing upward symbolizes the hope of heaven, while a hand with forefinger pointing down represents God reaching down for the soul.


Headstone Handshake Symbol

Farewell to earthly existence. But this is a complex symbol. The exact meaning depends on whether the wrists are level or what the cuffs look like.


Headstone Harp Symbol
Harp or Lyre

In the Bible is linked with praise to God. It can also show a musical talent of the deceased or Irish heritage.


Headstone Anchor Symbol

The anchor was regarded in ancient times as a symbol of safety and was adopted by Christians as a symbol of hope and steadfastness.


Headstone Laurel Wreath Symbol
Laurel wreath

Laurel, especially when fashioned in the shape of a wreath, is a common symbol found in the cemetery. It can represent victory, distinction, eternity or immortality.


Headstone Masonic Symbol
Masonic symbols

The most common of the Masonic symbols is the compass and square standing for faith and reason.


Headstone Rose Symbol

Can mean many things dependent on its colour, so on headstones it may mean beauty, purity, young love or death in youth. Roses and lilies intertwined represent the frailty of mortality.


Headstone Ship Symbol

Usually represents a mariner, or the Christian ship carrying the faithful.


Headstone Urn Symbol

After the cross, the urn is one of the most commonly used cemetery monuments. The design represents a funeral urn and is thought to symbolize immortality.


Headstone Weeping Women Symbol
Weeping women



Headstone Obelisk Symbol

Became popular in the 19th century. The classic style of gently tapering until a sharp angle at the top was replaced in mid Victorian times with a more Gothic style more similar to a church spire


Headstone Broken Column Symbol
Broken Column

A broken column indicates a life cut short, a memorial to the death of someone who died young or in the prime of life, before reaching old age.


Headstone Tree Trunk Symbol
Tree Trunk

Is often realistically carved as a grave marking. A broken trunk denoting a life cut short