Memorial Symbolism


While this list is not a complete list of all symbols used in memorial art, it serves as a comprehensive guide to some of the more popular symbols found in cemeteries.

Aesculapian Rod:  A serpent and staff thought by many to be the proper symbol for doctors instead of the winged Caduceus. 
Anchor:  Hope; Jesus the anchor of the soul, traditional maritime symbol 
Axe: A vow, consecration, defense 
Banner:  Triumph, victory 
Beads:  Prayer 
Bell:  Invitation, call to worship 
Birds:  Human souls 
Bishop's Staff:  Pastoral authority 
Book:  The Bible, Divine authorship, knowledge, scripture 
Broken Column:  Death 
Butterfly:  The Resurrection 
Caduceus:  Symbol of the medical profession (There are many variations depending upon the area of specialty.) 
Candle:  Jesus Christ the Light of the World, also the symbol of devotion 
Candlesticks (two):  Jesus’ qualities as both God and man 
Candlesticks (three) or Three-Branched Candelabrum:  The Holy Trinity 
Candlesticks (five) or Five-Branched Candelabrum:  The five wounds of Christ 
Candlesticks (six) or Six-Branched Candelabrum:  The six days of creation or the six hours spent by Jesus on the cross 
Candlesticks (seven) or Seven-Branched Candelabrum:  The Church, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, or the Seven Sacraments 
Circle:  Eternity, completeness, perfection 
Crossed Keys:  St. Peter, Gates of Heaven 
Crown:  Rank, sovereignty, royalty 
Crown of Thorns:  The Suffering Savior,  a Passion symbol 
Cross:  Christ and His atoning death, Christ’s redemption of fallen humanity 
Dove:  Peace, purity, meekness, modesty, humility, the Holy Ghost, divine inspiration, innocence 
Eagle:  Christ, Holy Baptism, St. John 
Festoon:  Memory 
Fire:  Martyrdom, zeal, inspiration, youthful fervor, hell, purgatory, sacrifice, purification 
Fish:  Jesus 
Fish/Three:  The Trinity 
Five-Pointed Star:  The wounds of Christ, the Star of Jacob, Divine guidance and protection 
Flaming Sword:  Expulsion from Eden, with shield: St. Michael 
Grapes:  The Eucharist,  twelve bunches: the Apostles, clusters of grapes on a running vine: Jesus and His followers,  the Church, unity 
Hand:  Issuing from clouds:  the Father 
Harp:  Joy, music, symbol of St. Cecilia patron saint of musicians, associated with David and worship, worship in heaven 
Heart:  Christian charity, surmounted by a flame: intense zeal or devotion 
Lamb:  Innocence, purity, sacrifice, Christ 
Lamp:  Knowledge, truth, enlightenment, Word of God, good works, Divine inspiration 
Pastoral Staff:  Authority 
Pierced Heart:  With a lance or spear, a Passion symbol 
Plenty, Horn of:  The Lord's bounty, Thanksgiving 
Pomegranate:  The Resurrection, immortality, royalty, fertility, The Church 
Pyramid:  Light, strength 
Rainbow:  Promise 
Ram:  Sacrifice 
Rod:  Official power, also a Passion symbol 
Rope:  A Passion symbol, Judas' death 
Rosary:  Prayer 
Rose:  Love, Christ, The Nativity. 
Rosette:  An ornament in the form of a conventional rose or other design of circular form, used as a decoration 
Scallop Shell:  Baptism, the Baptism of Christ, Christian pilgrimage, and marine affairs 
Scythe:  Death 
Serpent:  Death, wisdom 
Seven Golden Candlesticks:  The Seven Churches of Asia Minor 
Seven-Branched Candlestick:  The Church, The Seven Churches of Asia Minor, The Seven Angels of the Apocalypse, The Seven Gifts of the Sheep, Christians
Twelve Sheep: The Twelve Apostles, sheep and goats:  the redeemed and the lost 
Shield:  Faith, protection 
Shells:  Christianity 
Shepherd’s Crook:  Authority, Dominion 
Staff:  Religious jurisdiction, kindness, shepherd-like qualities/responsibilities
Star:  Christ, life
Sword:  Power, justice, authority, martyrdom
Triangle:  Trinity
Trumpet:  Call to worship, call of the Holy Spirit, Judgment Day, resurrection
Urn:  Death, sorrow (draped)
Wings:  Aspiration, flight of the Gospel


While this list is not a complete list of all flowers, trees and other plants used in memorial art, it serves as a comprehensive guide to some of the more popular symbols found in cemeteries.

Apple:  The fall of man, sin, Eve, discord, Virgin Mary 
Apple Blossom:  Fame 
Azalea:  Temperance 
Calla Lily:  Sympathy, zeal 
Clover:  Industry 
Cornucopia/Horn of Plenty:  Bounty, blessings, Thanksgiving 
Cultivated Rose:  Everlasting love 
Daisy:  The Christ Child's innocence, youth, righteousness, innocence 
Dogwood:  Crucifixion 
Easter Lily:  Resurrection 
Grape:  Charity 
Grape Vine:  The Eucharist, The Church, unity, Christ and his followers 
Holly:  Christmas 
Iris:  God-like qualities, eloquence, a message, protection 
Ivy:  Memory, remembrance, faithfulness, friendship, (often seen with oak) 
Laurel Wreath:  Triumph, victory, distinction, reward, good report 
Lily:  Easter, resurrection, the Virgin Mary, purity 
Lily of the Valley:  The Virgin Mary, humility, purity, return of happiness 
Morning Glory:  Resurrection, youth, promise, bonds of love and affection 
Oak:  Strength, virtue, character, eternity, endurance, forgiveness, independence (often seen with ivy) 
Olive Branch:  Peace, victory 
Orange Blossom:  Matrimony, chastity, purity 
Palm:  Victory, eternal peace, heavenly reward, success, righteousness, martyrdom, victory over sin and death 
Papyrus:  Love 
Passion Flower:  Crucifixion, Passion of Christ 
Pine:  Eternity, everlasting life 
Pineapple:  Friendship, hospitality 
Pine Cone:  Fertility, regeneration, healing 
Poinsettia:  Christmas, birth of Hope 
Pomegranate:  Resurrection, immortality, royalty, eternity, The Church 
Poppy:  Sleep, consolation, rest 
Rose:  Love, Christ, Nativity, joy, martyrdom 
Rosette:  Decorative form of rose in a circle 
Sunflower:  Adoration, glory, the soul turning to Christ 
Thistle:  Independence, austerity, sin, the fall of man 
Tulip:  Love, charity, declaration of love, ardent affection 
Violets:  Modesty, humility, graciousness, affection, faithfulness, sweetness, loyalty 
Wheat:  Riches, thanksgiving, life, bread of life, Body of Christ 
Wheat/Broken:  Death 
Wheat/Bundle:  Harvest, bounty 
Wild Rose:  Love, Christ, Messianic promise