Understanding Cemetery Symbols

What do the cemetery symbols and emblems mean?

Have you ever wondered about the symbols and emblems found on headstones and monuments at the cemetery?Cemetery Symbols

If you grew up in a religious family, there were no doubt some symbols that appeared frequently.

For me, it was the Celtic Cross. This is an interesting combination, including Celtic, Latin and Ancient Greek.

At the cemetery, you will find these and many more. The Maryborough Cemetery, or at least the monumental part of it, is quite old by Queensland standards. It was established in 1873, though there had been earlier cemeteries.

The first was at the site of the Old Maryborough Township near the intersection of Alice and Aldridge streets, and, later, at the site of the Elizabeth Park Rose Gardens. There were also various burials scattered throughout the district.

If you wander through the monumental cemetery on Walker St, you will be in awe of the size, variety and beauty of the various headstones and monuments erected to honour the deceased. It should be noted that the cemetery is divided into portions assigned to various faiths.

If you enter from Walker St, through the main gate, you will note the abundance of Celtic Crosses on the left of the avenue.

This is one of the Catholic portions of the cemetery. Cemetery symbols

To your right is an Anglican section. Crosses predominate throughout the cemetery, as one would expect, historically.  There are two quaintly named “Non-Christian” portions which are quite small.

Amongst the larger and more spectacular monuments, several motifs stand out apart from the crosses.

Angels, of course, are common and of varying styles. Look out for the Archangels Michael, with a sword and Gabriel, with a horn or trumpet. Angels may fly, symbolizing the departure of the soul, or crying in grief. Cherubs are often used to show the deceased was a child.

There are many monuments that feature an obelisk or stele. This is a square spire tapering towards the top, with a distinctive pyramid shape at the point. They are quite ancient symbols of power and achievement.

Occasionally, the monument will be topped by a column that appears broken off. This is deliberate. The broken column, again, symbolizes a life cut short and is usually a sign that the deceased died quite young.

Cemetery Symbols

As you continue to ramble amongst the graves, note the number of monuments topped by urns. Maryborough Cemetery has quite a few of them.

Some argue the urn symbolizes immortality, but it is probable that the urn motif is a remembrance of an earlier time when cremation was more common than burial.

The word urn comes from the Latin “uro” which means “to burn”. The purpose of the urn was to hold the ashes, which echo the Biblical reference in Genesis, to the dust we humans intrinsically are.

Many of the urns are draped with a cloth. This is the shroud, another ancient motif associated with death. From the earliest times and across many faiths, the body was wrapped in a cloth before interment.

The cemetery in Maryborough also contains at least one crypt and several raised tombs.

What would you like on your tombstone?


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