Understanding Cemetery Symbols and Emblems

What do the symbols and emblems on gravestones mean?

HAVE you ever wondered about the symbols and emblems on headstones and monuments at the cemetery? If you grew up in a religious family, there was no doubt some symbols appeared frequently.

For me, it was the Celtic Cross, INRI, AMDG and the ChiRho. This is an interesting combination including Celtic, Latin and Ancient Greek. At the cemetery, you will find these and many more.

Cemetery Symbols & Emblems

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.

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.

Angels often indicate the deceased was a child

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 be flying, symbolizing the departure of the soul, or crying in grief.

Cherubs are often used to indicate the deceased was a child.

At the Maryborough Cemetery in 2005, Andy Souvlis had a children’s memorial, with a single one-tonne marble angel as the centrepiece, built at the Maryborough Cemetery where he was buried next to his beloved wife Myra in 2010.

There are numerous cemetery 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 which appears broken off. This is deliberate. The broken column, again, symbolizes a life cut short and is usually an indication that the deceased died quite young.

Many monuments topped by urns

As you continue to ramble amongst the graves, note the number of monuments topped by urns.

Maryborough Cemetery has quite a few of them. It is argued that 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, and 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 earliest times and across many faiths the body was wrapped in a cloth before interment.

Crypts and raised tombs

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

Cemetery Symbols and EmblemsCemetery Symbols 003Cemetery Symbols and Emblems


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