When a loved one passes away, their family members typically select a headstone design for the cemetery burial. It’s always sad to lose someone, but the headstone is a nice way to forever remember them in a beautiful way.

If you’ve ever been to a cemetery before, you’ve seen the countless tombstone shapes and symbols that exist. As it so happens, they’re not random! No, every engraving has a special purpose, but you probably didn’t know the significance behind most of them… until now.

Here are 12 popular symbols found on headstones and the fascinating meanings behind them!

1. Winged skull: This symbol became popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. It represents the fleeting nature of mortality with the deceased soul soaring up to the heavens and into the afterlife like a winged bird.

2. Flying hourglass: This symbol is similar to the winged skull above. The hourglass is supposed to symbolize the unfortunate pace of time’s passage; it sometimes goes so quickly that it seems like it actually has wings.

3. Tree stump: This symbol is an especially upsetting one. If you ever see a gravestone in the shape of a tree trunk, it’s because the person who’s buried beneath had their life taken from them far too soon.

4. Inverted torch: This engraving symbolizes hope and confidence that the soul of the person at rest is still very much burning on into the afterlife. They’re at peace, and they’re watching over their loved ones here on Earth.

5. Snapped rose: This symbol is mostly used on the headstones of women. The bloom of the rose symbolizes the woman’s age when she died, and the thorny snapped stem means her life was taken too soon.

6. Dove: This is another symbol found primarily on the tombstones of women. The dove represents peace and purity; some of the birds appear to be ascending into heaven, and others might be lying dead if the person died suddenly.

7. Clasping hands: Hands are a common symbol on gravestones. Sometimes, just one hand points up towards heaven, but clasping hands represent a final farewell and are often seen on the graves of married couples.

8. Wheat: Wheat and oak are popular symbols on headstones to symbolize a long and eventful life. The wheat means the life that once prospered was harvested by the grim reaper when the time was right.

9. Lamb: A lamb indicates the body of a child is buried underneath that particular gravestone. The animal represents the innocence of youth, and in some cases, it also references Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God.

10. Open book: This is representative of either the Book of Life, a reference to the Bible, or simply the person’s love of literature. It symbolizes having an open heart to God and the deeds of the person’s life being recorded.

11. Draped urn: This symbol is most commonly found in Victorian cemeteries. It represents the separation between the world of the living and the world of the dead, and the drape is a protective shroud for the body’s soul.

12. Open gates: Very rarely do you see closed gates in cemeteries. The open passageways symbolize the souls’ journey from their coffins into the heavens above. They leave the land of the living for the permanent bliss of the afterlife.

When you learn the meanings behind these special symbols, it gives the gravestones a certain beauty that normally isn’t associated with death.

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