The Symbolism of Victorian Funerary Art
Undercliffe Cemetery was opened in 1854 and was known as the garden of sleep. The head gardeners gatehouse was known as the Gateway to Heaven.
If you walk around the cemetery you will be able to observe many different symbols on the monuments. The information here will help you understand their hidden meanings.
Angel – An agent of God. Guardian of the dead. They are guides and signify spirituality. They guard the tomb, Guide the soul, prey for the soul in purgatory and direct the living visitor to think heavenward.
Full column = The person has led a full life. With an anchor an early Christian symbol of hope and at rest.
Women with cross – Faith and grief. Original drawing seen with the hymn Rock of Ages.
Celtic Cross – The Celtic Cross is a powerful symbolic representation of the bridge between Heaven and Earth. The Celts believe in the power of earth, wind, fire and water. The circle means eternity and is often found on Celtic crosses
Obelisk – Ancient Egyptian in origin, symbol of life and health.
Laurel Wreath. Victory in death. Indestructible crown worn by triumphant Christian and glory.
Two angels and the all seeing eye – Two Angels, Saints of the Catholic Church, Michael who bears a sword and Gabriel who toots a horn. Angel shown without an object belongs to the nameless legions of personal guardians. All seeing eye of God. An eye surrounded by rays of light or glory enriched by a triangle. It represents the Eye of God watching over humanity or divine providence.
Quakers – No symbolism, everyone is the same in death before God. The months are represented by a number because the names are believed to by pagan.
Urn with flame – indicates new life and undying remembrance.
Draped Urn – When seen draped and empty an urn symbolises death, the final partition, separating the living from the dead. The return of the body back to ashes, and dust, leading to the souls rebirth in the next realm.
Cherub – Bearers of God’s throne. The name derived from the Assyrian word Karibu meaning one who intercedes. Often found on the grave of children.
Dove – A Dove descending represents the Holy Spirit. When climbing it indicates peace. Innocence and purity. Messenger of God carrying souls to heaven.
Women with Scroll – Grief and faith.
Praying Angel – Religious devotion
Lion – Strength, courage and resurrection. Power of God and guard the lamb against evil. If winged Mark the evangelist
Weeping Willows – Mortality and mourning. Grief, death and earthly sorrow. The symbolic tree of human sadness. Nature’s lament. (Carried at Masonic funerals)
Lilly of the Valley – The return of happiness after Eve’s expulsion from the garden of Eden. Her tears turned to Lily of the Valley as they hit the ground. Purity also an apple represents the sins of Eve.
Masonic Compass and Square. The Knights Templar
Pentagon pre dating Christianity first used by Pythagoras. While believing that the pentagon offered protection from evil spirits, it was adapted by Christians, and made into a five pointed star to represent the five wounds Christ suffered on the cross.
Angel with a trumpet – Victory and resurrection. Symbolising judgement day.
Artist – John Worsnop’s grave stone. Palette and brushes, the artists accolade.
Broken Anchor Chair – A chain with a broken link indicates the loss of a family member.
Clasped Hands – Found on family graves, symbolising either hope of reunification in the next life, or farewell, see you soon.
Cross of Sacrifice – Cross of sacrifice, sword and poppies. Most used Christian symbol of faith around the world. Also of sacrifice. Sword, Symbolising justice, consistency and fortitude, martyrdom, courage, and warfare.
Ferns – Ferns symbolise sincerity and solitude, because they can be found in remote places.
Harp – Associated with David in the old testament. The symbol of St. Cecillia, patron saint of musicians. Symbolic of worship in heaven.
Heart, Anchor and Cross – Hope, love and faith. A broken chain means loss of a family member.
Palm – Symbolises the triumph of life over death through resurrection, martydom, peace and the reward of the righteous.
Open Book – When open means perfect knowledge, can represent the story of a persons life.
Rah Sun God – Hope for eternal life. Appears in different forms. Serpent, ancient Egyptian symbol for life and health.
Rock – St Peter rock on which Christ built his church. Steadfastness of Christ’s stability.
Sickle and Scythe – Scythe, death the devine harvest Sickle, as shown here, death as the last harvest. Symbolic of cutting down a plant or person in the prime of life.
Sphinx – Strength, protection and wisdom, and they guard the entrance.
Torch Lit Turned upside down – Represents a life extinguished. Death and mourning. A lit torch signifies eternal life. A symbol of immortality, zeal, enlightenment. An upright life, the scholastic world and the betrayal of
Tulip – Declaration of love.