Sunday, April 5, 2009

Resting in Peace

One of my favorite things to do when in an older city is visit their graveyards. Today, this may seem a little strange; however, in the 19th century, this is exactly what these resting places were arranged for. A movement to make graveyards more appealing and a place to wander happened in the mid 1800s. This transition started first in England and then became the norm here in the states. The cemetery became a place where you would take a leisurely stroll, much like a park. As one meanders through the paths, specific iconography can be seen. Common elements such as flowers and angels abound.For instance, an open flower typically means the deceased was older while a small bud represents an early death. Wheat sheaves refer to the "pruning" of God's chosen ones (think of the wheat and chaff dichotomy). Stumps and wood are generally associated with Masonic members. Lambs represent the young and innocent.

There are several interesting books on this topic. I specifically recommend Stories in Stone: The Complete Guide to Cemetery Symbolism. The pictures are wonderful, and the text is very interesting.

I hope you've enjoyed this little "stroll". Hopefully you'll now take more than a passing fancy to the graveyards when traveling to a new city.

All photographs used in this post are from Oakdale in Wilmington, N.C. I highly recommend visiting this cemetery - It has some of the best carvings I have seen outside of Vermont and Massachusetts.