I have been doing quite a bit of research on old tombstones, and the angels carved into them. I love the art and symbolism that is on the very old, pre-1850 ones. A couple of years ago, while on vacation in Boston, my son Aidan and I spent quite a bit of time exploring an old cemetary. I was quite surprised at how well a lot of them have aged, you could still read the inspcriptions on almost all of them. I remember it was very hot that day in July, and the rest of the family was sort of tapping their feet waiting for us, but we were just fascinated by them. OK, me, I think Aidan might have been humoring me!
I have learned quite a bit about them since then. Fore instance the oldest ones in America, erected during the more puritan era have death faces with wings. Then later as the influence of Neo-classical art came over from Europe, the skulls began to change to a more human face. The image of the winged scull or face(what looks like an Angel to us) represents the soul leaving mortal life and flying into eternity.
Here are a few common symbols (there are many, many more):
Flying Angel: rebirth
Trumpeting Angel: call to Resurrection
Weeping Angel: grief
Coffin, Pick, Spade, Pall: mortality
Crown: glory of life after death
Flower: frailty of life
Severed Blossom: mortality
Heart: love, love of God, abode of the soul
Hour Glass; inevitable passing of time(and life)
Winged Hour Glass: swift passage
Scull, Bones, Skeleton: mortality
Winged scull: flight of the soul from mortal man
Winged face: Effigy of soul of the deceased, soul in flight
Of course the epitaphs inscribed on them is what first drew me to these little works of art. Here are some of my favorites:
The ever popular:
When I am dead and in my grave.
And all my bones are rotten,
Remember me when this you see,
Lest I shall be forgotten.
What you are reading o'er my bones
I've often read on others tombs.
And others soon will read of thee
What you are reading now of me.
Then their are the ones that seem odd to us today:
Molly tho pleasant in her day
Was suddenly seiz'd and sent away
How soon shes ripe how soon shes rott'n
Sent to her grave & soon for gott'n
Which by todays sensitivities would probably read:
Molly, pleasant in her day,
Was suddenly seized and passed away.
How soon her mortal remains decay,
And her remembrance fades away.
Then there are the funny ones(which cannot be authenticated):
Here lies the body of our Anna
Done to death by a banana
It wasn't the fruit that laid her low
But the skin of the thing that made her go.
And from a tombstone out west:
Here lies Lester Moore,
Four slugs from a .44,
No Les, no more.