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

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Wreath Most Victorious

St. Michael's Evan. Lutheran Church, Sellersville, PA

Wreaths are ancient symbols, dating back to at least the ancient Greeks, who wore them to denote their occupations, achievements or status.  They also crowned the winners of their Olympic games with wreaths, usually made of laurel leaves, a symbol of the god Apollo who embodied victory and achievement to the Greeks.  

The Romans adopted the Greek wreath as a symbol of achievement, taking it a step further to adorn their leaders in government, education and the arts.  Kings especially wore wreaths of laurel, and later they were embellished with jewels and precious metals; this tradition eventually led to the creation of crowns as we know them today.

Christianity also embraced the wreath as one of its symbols, because of the crown of thorns placed on the head of Jesus before he was led to his crucifixion.  Because Christians believe that Jesus triumphed over death through his resurrection into Heaven, the crown, or wreath, is viewed as a symbol of the deceased’s overcoming the trials of life and the pain of death and then ascending into the most perfect afterlife.

Nineteenth-century American society probably embraced the wreath as a gravestone symbol because of a combination of their fascination with the excavations of ancient Greece and Rome taking place in the early 1800’s, and the religious revivalism that swept the country around the same time, causing many people to become fervent Christians.  The Victorians also incorporated their love for floriography (the language of flowers) to illustrate the admirable characteristics of their deceased loved ones in a permanent wreath of flowers adorning their gravestone.

We still use wreaths, of course, to decorate our homes; I have one hanging on my door to symbolize the Christmas season.  But I don’t think we place as much importance in the individual greens and blossoms we select for our wreath d├ęcor, nor do we display them to celebrate the victory of the soul over death.  I just put mine up because it was pretty.   :)

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA

Beth Israel Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery, Cold Spring, NJ

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA (rare double wreath)

Doylestown Cemetery, Doylestown, PA

Doylestown Cemetery, Doylestown, PA

Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Durham Cemetery, Durham. PA

Durham Cemetery, Durham, PA

Durham Cemetery, Durham, PA

Durham Cemetery, Durham, PA  (I think these are laurel leaves)

Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA

Indian Creek Christ Reformed Cemetery, Indian Valley, PA (ivy for fidelity)

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Laurel Hill, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA (with mourning cloth)

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Lyon Street Cemetery, Tirzah, PA

Montrose Cemetery, Montrose, PA

Neshaminy Presbyterian Cemetery, Warrington, PA (Masonic Symbol in center)

New Britain Baptist Cemetery, New Britain, PA

Odd Fellows Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA (with upside down torches)

Old Brooklyn Cemetery, Brooklyn, PA

Orvilla Cemetery, Orvilla, PA

Overfield Cemetery, Meshoppen, PA (Laurel Leaves for Victory, Oak Leaves for Strength.  He died at age 21 in a rebel prison of disease)

Pleasant Hill Cemetery, Pleasant Valley, PA

Pleasantville UCC Cemetery, Pleasantville, PA

Prompton Cemetery, Prompton, PA

St. Andrew Episcopal Cemetery, Yardley, PA

St. John's Union Cemetery, Nazareth, PA

St. Luke Evan. Lutheran Church, Ferndale, PA

St. John Evangelist Roman Catholic Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

St. Peter's Tohickon UCC Cemetery, Keelersville, PA

St. Peter's Tohickon UCC Cemetery, Keelersville, PA

St. Peter's Tohickon UCC Cemetery, Keelersville, PA

Stroudsburg Cemetery, Stroudsburg, PA

Welsh Hill Cemetery, Clifford, PA

Wentz's Church, Worcester, PA

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