Tombstone Tuesday-Urn Symbol

One of the earliest and most commonly used gravestone icons is the likeness of an urn placed on top of a tombstone or carved onto the grave marker.

The urn was one of the first symbols used that replaced the death head and soul effigy in the 19th century after the Revolutionary War. The willow tree icon was the other.

Urn embellished with flowers, Zion Lutheran Cemetery, Chattanooga, Ohio. (2011 photo by Karen)

The urn is a symbol of death because an urn is used as a container for the deceased’s ashes. The urn motif was commonly used during the 1800s even though cremation was seldom practiced during that time period.  

Greeks used the urn as a symbol of mourning because it held the ashes of the dead.

Urns can also symbolize the immortality of the soul. Egyptians believed that life would some day be restored if the vital body parts were placed and stored in an urn.

Draped urn, Woodlawn Cemetery, Van Wert County, Ohio. (2005 photo by Karen)

Draped urn, Riverside Cemetery, Rockford, Mercer County, Ohio. (2021 photo by Karen)

Some cemetery urns are draped. Drapes were commonly used during the Victorian era and symbolize mourning and the separation of life and death. It symbolizes a veil between earth and heaven.

Urn with flame, Granary Burial Ground, Boston. (2009 photo by Karen)

Urn with flame, Granary Burial Ground, Boston. (2009 photo by Karen)

An urn with a flame symbolizes the soul rising from the ashes and undying remembrance.

The phrase gone to pot may derive from the use of a funeral urn that holds ashes.    

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