Think about what story you want your grave stone to tell. If you choose a sheaf of wheat, you celebrated a long and abundant life. A butterfly engraved on your tombstone mourns a short life. Besides recording your name, birth and death days, your grave stone can reveal your religious beliefs, your ethnicity, and your civic, business, and social activities.
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Grave Stones Tell a Story
Grave stone markings can tell life stories and expose much about the history and culture of the people buried beneath them. A stone cutter is an artist, and grave stone markings are art at its most expressive. Neanderthal man marked his graves with etched stone, and the Egyptian pyramids were massive examples of grave stone art.
Wings Replace Crossbones
In the 1600s, grave stone markings often featured the skull and cross bones symbol of death. By the 1700s, wings replaced the crossbones with a new symbol called the death's head, introducing the idea of life after death. Artists celebrated life over death by changing the skulls to angels.
Skulls Convert to Angels
By the mid-19th century, stone art emphasised eternity, rebirth, and the life stories of the deceased. A Holy Bible marked Christian stones, and a cross represented Christianity. A chalice suggested the Sacraments, and angels meant spirituality.
Lambs Mean Innocence
Symbols from nature included the weeping willow tree, signifying mourning, and a century plant, representing immortality. Birds suggested eternal life or the resurrection, and animals such as a lamb, usually marking the grave of child, meant innocence.
Urns Mean Short Lives
Broken columns, inverted torches and urns signified lives that were too short. Symbols like the Beehive for Freemasons, and B.R.T. for the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen denoted fraternal and business activities. Artillery represented military service as did American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars markers.
Design Your Own Grave Stone
Most symbols engraved on grave stones are found in textbooks, and researching them can be rewarding. A few people design their own grave stones, creating a symbol that expresses their individual lives.
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