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Treestone, Levallois-Perret

Cemetery Symbolism

Cemeteries are virtual encyclopedias of symbolism. The symbols on a person’s tomb may help to tell us something about the life of its inhabitant. Dead men may tell no tales, but their tombstones do. Besides informing us of the person’s name and dates of birth and death, a tombstone often tells us a person’s religion, ethnicity, what clubs he was a member of, occupation and what the person’s thoughts were on the afterlife.

Most symbols in a cemetery have some connection with a religion, but many are overwhelmingly religion-specific, like the cross for Christians and the Star of David for Jews. Generally, these symbols are associated with some sort of religious ritual. But before we present our guide to cemetery symbolism, we must issue a small caveata person may have requested something on a tombstone simply because they liked the way it looked and it may have had absolutely nothing to do with their life. This is especially true with flower symbols. But as a rule of thumb, the older the tomb the more likely the symbolism had something to do with the person’s life and his thoughts on the afterlife. For an in-depth examination of funerary symbols, consult Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography.

Mortality Symbols

Hourglass (usually with wings)

The symbolism is clear: time is passing rapidly, and every day, everyone comes closer to the hour of his or her death. A bolder interpretation of the hourglass suggests that since it can be inverted over and over again, it symbolizes the cyclic nature of life and death, heaven and earth.

The inverted torch is a purely funerary symbol. It is unlikely that it will be found anywhere but the cemetery. The inverted torch comes in two forms. The most common is the inverted torch with flame burning, which, while symbolizing death, suggests that the soul (fire) continues to exist in the next realm The other version is an upside-down torch without a flame, which simply means life extinguished.

Thus, while William and Mary had benefited academically and financially from its imperial associations, growing anti-British sentiment after midcentury quickly put the college’s future in jeopardy. Thailand Map In 1775, two of the college’s six professors fled to England, while three more left to join the Continental army. Thirty-seven students also joined the army, while many others organized militia companies. In 1777, the remaining faculty wisely appointed their patriot chaplain, the Reverend James Madison (second cousin of the future U.S. president), to the office of president, a move that surely saved the college from a sacking. Instead, the college was briefly closely and occupied by both sides, first as a hospital and then as a barracks.

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