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The Meaning Behind 12 Common Cemetery Symbols

OCTOBER 23, 2015  —  By Tim Unkenholz  
Tim Unkenholz

Tim Unkenholz

Writer and stand up comedian in NY. Check out my monthly comedy show Roomie Raiders at the Creek and The Cave! @timunken

Do you ever walk through old cemeteries and wonder what all of those symbols above the tombstones mean? First of all, why are you hanging out in old cemeteries?

Anyway, we've gone ahead and compiled a list of some of death's most common imagery for your reference, weirdos. Here is a guide to cemetery symbolism with images by Atlas Obscura.

Open gates.

This one represents the gates to heaven, which is pretty obvious.

Snapped rose.

However much the rose has blossomed signifies how old a woman was when she died. A full bloom means that she lived a long life. A bud signifies that she died too soon.

Draped urn.

The shroud represents the separation between the living and the dead, and is also supposed to protect the soul.

Open book.

It could mean that the deceased was a scholar, or an avid reader of the bible. In any case, it also means that this person was open to God.

Winged skull.

It may look like something fit for a Hell's Angels outing, but this dark symbol represents the soul soaring up to heaven.

Tree stump.

This usually means that a person died too young.

Flying hourglass.

Decidedly way less cool than the flying skull, the flying hourglass symbolizes the idea that time is fleeting.

Clasped hands.

This usually means that one half of a married couple has passed on, while the other still lives.


People often forget why Death is classically seen carrying around a scythe. The metaphor is that Death is the reaper, and we are the wheat. This symbol means that the person was "harvested" at just the right time.


The image of a dove suggests that a woman died too young.


The lamb usually accompanies the death of a child.

Inverted torch.

The idea here is that the soul's fire will continue to burn after death.

If you ever find yourself in a graveyard for whatever reason, keep your eyes peeled for these symbols. There's a story behind every grave marker that most people don't even know about.