The ABC's of Memorial Symbolism

By Burton Fletcher

The Acanthus symbolizes Heavenly Gardens. Anchor is an early Christian symbol for hope. Alpha and Omega is the beginning and the end. The Angel is symbolic as the Agent of God, often pointing heavenwards. The Ark is the symbol of the Church, because in the Ark, all living creatures found refuge from danger.

The Beehive is a symbol for a community of those who work together for the benefit of all. The Book is the Bible. The Butterfly symbolizes the Resurrection and eternal life (as the butterfly leaves the pupa and sours upward with a new body). A Broken Column symbolizes death, mortality, and a life cut short.

The Candelabrum is the 5 wounds of Our Lord. The Circle symbolizes eternity, and it is often incorporated into the Celtic cross.
The Cross is a symbol of the Christian religion, Christ, and His atoning death. The Crown is emblem of a Christian martyr or royalty, while the Crown of Thorns symbolizes a mockery crown and a symbol of humiliation and suffering.

Daisy is the Christ Child’s innocence. The Dove expresses innocence and purity, and peace, signifying the Holy Spirit and the presence of God.

Festoon is Memory.

Gates symbolize entry into heaven. A Grape is Our Lord and His followers.
Hands clasped are a symbol of farewell—we shall meet again. A Harp is music worship in Heaven. The Heart symbolizes love and devotion. Holly is the thorny, prickly leaves of the holly tree and regarded as a symbol of the Crown of Thorns, and therefore recalls the passion of Christ. Honeysuckle is a Greek ornament. A Horse epitomizes strength, courage, or the swiftness of the passage of time. The Hourglass symbolizes Father Time.

HIS symbolizes the first three letters (iota, beta, sigma) of the Greek spelling of “Jesus.” I.N.R.I. means Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Ivy symbolizes faithfulness, immortality, friendship, and memory.

Jonquil means affection.

The Labyrinth symbolizes eternity. The Lamb symbolizes Our Lord and innocence, and is frequently used on a child's grave. The Lamp of Knowledge symbolizes truth and immortality. Thus a covered lamp symbolizes the extinguishments of life. A Laurel symbolizes reward, victory, or fame. The Lily, my favorite, symbolizes Easter, purity, resurrection, and immortality. The bulb decays in the ground, yet from it, new life is released. This is symbolic of Easter. The Lily of the Valley means humility.

The Lion symbolizes strength, courage, and the Resurrection. The Obelisk is symbolic of eternal life and is the Egyptian sun-worshipping symbol. The Olive Branch is for peace, harmony, and healing.

Morning Glory symbolizes bonds of love. The Oak is strength and virtue. The Olive is Peace.

A Palm means victory/triumph over death.
A Passion Flower is the crowing event in the life of Our Lord, for Christ's passion, sacrifice, and redemption. The Peacock is an early symbol of the Resurrection. The Pelican symbolizes atonement. Phoenix, another favorite, since my college days as a Brother in Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, is the mythical bird, rising from its own ashes; it is immortal life. A Pine is stateliness. A Pillow symbolizes the deathbed. A Poppy is sleep or rest.

Quatrafoil is the four Gospels.

Reeds are strength and learning.

Rocks symbolize steadfastness of the Christian faith. A Rope is an emblem of the betrayal and arrest, a symbol for the passion of Christ. A Rose is love. The Scythe or sickle is the passage of time.

A Shell symbolizes pilgrimage or Christianity. A Ship is the Christian Church carrying the faithful through the world. A Skeleton is symbolic of death and is frequently shown with a scythe, since death cuts short life, as well as with an hourglass, which is symbolic of passing of time. A Skull means mortality. A Snake symbolizes Eternity. A Staff is religious jurisdiction or kindness. A Star symbolizes nativity. The Star of David is The Creation. A Sundial means the passage of time. A Sword signifies justice or occupation.

A Thistle means austerity and independence. A Torch placed Upright symbolizes life; Inverted torches symbolize life quenched out. A Tree is life and regeneration. The Triangle means Holy Trinity. A Tulip is symbolic of ardent affection.

The Urn symbolizes death; the classical Grecian urn contains human remains, and flaming symbolizes new life.

Wheat is the bread of life. A Willow means grief and mourning. Wings symbolize a divine mission; Angels and cherubim are shown with wings. Winged Sun Disc means Divine Power. A Wreath is memory and eternal life.

X.P. are Greek symbols for Chi Rho and Christ, and are shown with the “P” overlaying the “X.”

The Yew symbolizes mourning, due to its long association with churchyards.

Sources: McNeel, The Greatest Name in Stonecraft

Burton Fletcher, with over 20 years business experience, owns He is a licensed memorialist in Georgia and Florida. He enjoys genealogy and visiting and studying Southern monuments. Reach Burton at 229.245.8858 or

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