The Matthews Monument at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lily of the Valley---“Tomb Stone and the Pips”

Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA
The delicate flower also known as Convallaria majalis appears often on 19th century grave stones.  Lily of the valley symbolized purity, innocence and the return of happiness and renewal, as it is one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring.  

Flowers were very important to 19th century America.  Before embalming became standard practice, the deceased were “waked” in the home, in the parlor usually, for several days.  The reason for this was partly to honor the loved one with a “proper” showing of grief, and partly to be sure the deceased was really dead and not in a coma.  A decomposing body does not smell very pleasant, and flowers were brought in to help mask the smell.  

Because of the Civil War, many families chose to have their deceased soldiers embalmed and shipped back from the battlefront, as opposed to burying them far away where they fell.  Flowers still played an important role in funerals and grave stones as the Victorian era raised mourning to new heights.  Families, especially widows, would go into strict mourning periods after the deaths of their loved ones.  Black clothing was worn, black crepe draped mirrors in the homes, and funeral wreaths of flowers and black crepe were placed on the front door.  During the 19th century, the Victorians wrote the book on flowers and their meanings.  (Literally, there were books written in the 1800’s about floriography---the language of flowers.  For more information, look at these links:,

Lily of the valley is also known as “Our Lady’s Tears” or “Mary’s Tears,” with different legends stating the flowers symbolized Eve’s tears as she and Adam were cast out of Eden, or Mary’s tears as she cried at Jesus’ crucifixion.  A French legend also states that the lily of the valley sprang from the blood of Saint Leonard of Noblac as he battled a dragon.  

On 19th century tombstones, the lily of the valley adorned the graves of people of all ages, but was used primarily for children and young women.

Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, Pa

Durham Cemetery, Durham, PA

Close-Up, Durham Cemetery, Durham, PA

Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA

Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Hatboro Cemetery, Hatboro, PA

Quakertown Union Cemetery, Quakertown, PA

St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

St. Michael's Evangelical Lutheran, Sellersville, PA

Close-Up, St. Michael's Evangelical Lutheran, Sellersville, PA

St. Luke's United Church of Christ, Dublin, PA

Zinc Tombstone, Montrose Cemetery, Montrose, PA

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