Memorial Symbolism

Symbols -

While this list is not a complete list of all symbols used in memorial art, it serves as a comprehensive guide to some of the more popular symbols found in cemeteries.

Aesculapian Rod:  A serpent and staff thought by many to be the proper symbol for doctors instead of the winged Caduceus.
Anchor:  Hope; Jesus the anchor of the soul, traditional maritime symbol
Axe: A vow, consecration, defense
Banner:  Triumph, victory
Beads:  Prayer
Bell:  Invitation, call to worship
Birds:  Human souls
Bishop's Staff:  Pastoral authority
Book:  The Bible, Divine authorship, knowledge, scripture
Broken Column:  Death
Butterfly:  The Resurrection
Caduceus:  Symbol of the medical profession (There are many variations depending upon the area of specialty.)
Candle:  Jesus Christ the Light of the World, also the symbol of devotion
Candlesticks (two):  Jesus’ qualities as both God and man
Candlesticks (three) or Three-Branched Candelabrum:  The Holy Trinity
Candlesticks (five) or Five-Branched Candelabrum:  The five wounds of Christ
Candlesticks (six) or Six-Branched Candelabrum:  The six days of creation or the six hours spent by Jesus on the cross
Candlesticks (seven) or Seven-Branched Candelabrum:  The Church, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, or the Seven Sacraments
Circle:  Eternity, completeness, perfection
Crossed Keys:  St. Peter, Gates of Heaven
Crown:  Rank, sovereignty, royalty
Crown of Thorns:  The Suffering Savior,  a Passion symbol
Cross:  Christ and His atoning death, Christ’s redemption of fallen humanity
Dove:  Peace, purity, meekness, modesty, humility, the Holy Ghost, divine inspiration, innocence
Eagle:  Christ, Holy Baptism, St. John
Festoon:  Memory
Fire:  Martyrdom, zeal, inspiration, youthful fervor, hell, purgatory, sacrifice, purification
Fish:  Jesus
Fish/Three:  The Trinity
Five-Pointed Star:  The wounds of Christ, the Star of Jacob, Divine guidance and protection
Flaming Sword:  Expulsion from Eden, with shield: St. Michael
Grapes:  The Eucharist,  twelve bunches: the Apostles, clusters of grapes on a running vine: Jesus and His followers,  the Church, unity
Hand:  Issuing from clouds:  the Father
Harp:  Joy, music, symbol of St. Cecilia patron saint of musicians, associated with David and worship, worship in heaven
Heart:  Christian charity, surmounted by a flame: intense zeal or devotion
Lamb:  Innocence, purity, sacrifice, Christ
Lamp:  Knowledge, truth, enlightenment, Word of God, good works, Divine inspiration
Pastoral Staff:  Authority
Pierced Heart:  With a lance or spear, a Passion symbol
Plenty, Horn of:  The Lord's bounty, Thanksgiving
Pomegranate:  The Resurrection, immortality, royalty, fertility, The Church
Pyramid:  Light, strength
Rainbow:  Promise
Ram:  Sacrifice
Rod:  Official power, also a Passion symbol
Rope:  A Passion symbol, Judas' death
Rosary:  Prayer
Rose:  Love, Christ, The Nativity.
Rosette:  An ornament in the form of a conventional rose or other design of circular form, used as a decoration
Scallop Shell:  Baptism, the Baptism of Christ, Christian pilgrimage, and marine affairs
Scythe:  Death
Serpent:  Death, wisdom
Seven Golden Candlesticks:  The Seven Churches of Asia Minor
Seven-Branched Candlestick:  The Church, The Seven Churches of Asia Minor, The Seven Angels of the Apocalypse, The Seven Gifts of the Sheep, Christians
Twelve Sheep: The Twelve Apostles, sheep and goats:  the redeemed and the lost
Shield:  Faith, protection
Shells:  Christianity
Shepherd’s Crook:  Authority, Dominion
Staff:  Religious jurisdiction, kindness, shepherd-like qualities/responsibilities
Star:  Christ, life
Sword:  Power, justice, authority, martyrdom
Triangle:  Trinity
Trumpet:  Call to worship, call of the Holy Spirit, Judgment Day, resurrection
Urn:  Death, sorrow (draped)
Wings:  Aspiration, flight of the Gospel

Flowers -
While this list is not a complete list of all flowers, trees and other plants used in memorial art, it serves as a comprehensive guide to some of the more popular symbols found in cemeteries.

Apple:  The fall of man, sin, Eve, discord, Virgin Mary
Apple Blossom:  Fame
Azalea:  Temperance
Calla Lily:  Sympathy, zeal
Clover:  Industry
Cornucopia/Horn of Plenty:  Bounty, blessings, Thanksgiving
Cultivated Rose:  Everlasting love
Daisy:  The Christ Child's innocence, youth, righteousness, innocence
Dogwood:  Crucifixion
Easter Lily:  Resurrection
Grape:  Charity
Grape Vine:  The Eucharist, The Church, unity, Christ and his followers
Holly:  Christmas
Iris:  God-like qualities, eloquence, a message, protection
Ivy:  Memory, remembrance, faithfulness, friendship, (often seen with oak)
Laurel Wreath:  Triumph, victory, distinction, reward, good report
Lily:  Easter, resurrection, the Virgin Mary, purity
Lily of the Valley:  The Virgin Mary, humility, purity, return of happiness
Morning Glory:  Resurrection, youth, promise, bonds of love and affection
Oak:  Strength, virtue, character, eternity, endurance, forgiveness, independence (often seen with ivy)
Olive Branch:  Peace, victory
Orange Blossom:  Matrimony, chastity, purity
Palm:  Victory, eternal peace, heavenly reward, success, righteousness, martyrdom, victory over sin and death
Papyrus:  Love
Passion Flower:  Crucifixion, Passion of Christ
Pine:  Eternity, everlasting life
Pineapple:  Friendship, hospitality
Pine Cone:  Fertility, regeneration, healing
Poinsettia:  Christmas, birth of Hope
Pomegranate:  Resurrection, immortality, royalty, eternity, The Church
Poppy:  Sleep, consolation, rest
Rose:  Love, Christ, Nativity, joy, martyrdom
Rosette:  Decorative form of rose in a circle
Sunflower:  Adoration, glory, the soul turning to Christ
Thistle:  Independence, austerity, sin, the fall of man
Tulip:  Love, charity, declaration of love, ardent affection
Violets:  Modesty, humility, graciousness, affection, faithfulness, sweetness, loyalty
Wheat:  Riches, thanksgiving, life, bread of life, Body of Christ
Wheat/Broken:  Death
Wheat/Bundle:  Harvest, bounty
Wild Rose:  Love, Christ, Messianic promise