Tombstone Symbolism

When we walk through older, historic cemeteries, tombstones can reveal stories to us, even if the inscriptions — the details of a person’s birth and death — have faded over time. Sometimes the gravestone materials tell us a certain type of stone was prevalent in the area, perhaps quarried nearby or accessible by rail. Sometimes local customs steered a certain type or shape of tombstone. A particularly talented carver’s work may be evident. We see the evolution of tombstone styles and preferences over time. Even the ground cover, often periwinkle, reveals that an old cemetery is or was here.

But symbols on the tombstones or the shape of the tombstones themselves — a lamb, an open book, an angel, an anchor, a tree stump, an arch — tell us important stories, too. If you’re interested in a quick scan of some common gravestone symbols, here’s a link: If you want a much more detailed listing of cemetery symbols, please visit

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