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History & Art

Memorial symbolism at Lakewood

Much of the memorial art found at Lakewood was popular during the Victorian era. These artistic styles used a language of symbols to speak to visitors about the culture, values and identity of the monument’s patron. Because of changes in memorial ritual and style over the years, some of the meanings behind symbols are no longer commonly known today.

Common symbols

Urn — the most common funerary symbol after the cross, the urn is a traditional symbol of death because of its ancient use for holding ashes. The urn is also a symbol for a house or dwelling. When the urn is draped, it means a “house of mourning.” The design mimics the funeral urn of the ancients.

Harp — a symbol of hope, joy, and music. It is the symbol of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, and is often associated with worship in heaven.

Drapery (also called pall) — a symbol for sorrow, grief, and mourning. Some believe that draping represents the collapse of the partition between life and death, while others believe it represents the shroud left after the soul departs the body. Drapes are seen in conjunction with a number of symbols, most commonly with the urn, harp or cross.

Obelisk — obelisk were a feature of the Egyptian Revival architectural style which reached its peak during the late 1800s. As the style was adapted by Victorian-era Christians, the obelisk came to represent rebirth and a connection between earth and heaven.

Celtic cross — the Celtic cross is strongly tied to Mother Nature as well as Irish and/or Scottish heritage. The four arms of the cross represent the four elements of water, fire, earth and air. The Irish also see the four provinces of Ireland, with the fifth province being the circle in the center of the cross. The endless inter-laid patterns in the cross are called Celtic knots and have meaning that ranges from the mystery of life and death to immortality.

For more about symbolism, take a self-guided walking tour at Lakewood. Download the tour guide (PDF).

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