Graveyard

Graveyard
Cedar Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sailing Into the Afterlife, Anchored By Faith, Buoyed By Hope

Norris Cemetery, Norristown, PA

Since most of the cemeteries I have visited this past year have been in rural Eastern Pennsylvania, I have not seen many ships or nautical symbols featured on tombstones.  The exceptions are in the cemeteries in Philadelphia, a city situated at the mouth of  the Delaware River, and Cold Spring Cemetery near Cape May, NJ, and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church Cemetery in Lewes, DE, two towns located right on the Atlantic Ocean.  Most of the nautical symbols such as ships, bollards (short posts on a dock used for mooring ships in harbors) or heavy mooring ropes are present on tombstones of men who led seafaring lives, and who lived, died and were buried near the ocean or the river.  Occasionally, I have found a bollard, rope and anchor combination symbol in cemeteries in towns on the upper Delaware (i.e. Easton or Milford), but I’ve never seen nautical symbols in inland cemeteries.

Except for the anchor.  Anchors abound on tombstones in cemeteries that are nowhere near large bodies of water, and that is because the anchor is more than just a simple nautical symbol; the anchor is a symbol of Christian faith.

Anchors used to be secret crosses.  According to Stories in Stone by Douglas Keister, when Christians first began to practice their religion, it was outlawed, and if caught practicing, they were persecuted (i.e in Rome, their punishment was to provide “entertainment” in public arenas as they were forced to battle experienced warriors or wild animals).  The anchor was a sign from one Christian to another as a profession of their faith, like a secret handshake or knock.  

Eventually the pagans in charge would have figured that out, but the anchor was only a secret symbol for about 300 years.  In 312, the Roman emperor Constantine had seen his  vision of the Christian cross before the battle he won against the Turks.  After his victory, he wholeheartedly converted to Christianity, and the entire Roman empire was forced to follow suit.  Christianity was no longer forced to exist behind closed doors.

The anchor continued as a Christian symbol of hope, and still does today.  The passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews 6 states:  “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast…”  The three theological Virtues (human forms that represent core Christian values) include Faith, Hope and Charity, and the figure of Hope almost always has an anchor with her. 

Getting back to the ship imagery, there is a possibility that not all of the symbols I have shown are simply a sign of a naval background.  According to Keister in Stories in Stone, ships can refer to Noah’s ark, a symbol of the Church weathering all storms, protecting and saving those on board.  Boats with the deceased’s body in them symbolize the voyage of crossing over to the “other world.”  

As I study these 19th century symbols on tombstones, I am struck by how many pertain to Christianity and the afterlife.  I have just read a cemetery book by David Robinson entitled Beautiful Death:  Art of the Cemetery, and he maintains that the 19th century saw a “psychological shift…from emotion centered on oneself…to [emotion for] the family.”  The religious revivals that swept America in the 1800’s reinforced the importance of family, and cemetery monuments honored the family, not just the individual.  Remember, before the advent of the rural landscaped cemetery, people were buried in churchyards, in order of date of death, not necessarily near other family members.  The rural cemetery concept allowed for purchase of a family burial plot, reinforcing the concept of the family, together forever, now and in the future, in the afterlife.  So many of the symbols we find in 19th century tombstones represent Christian values of a better afterlife, and they promise a joyous reunion of the family, someday in Heaven.  And I got all of that from a couple of anchors---hmm, maybe I DO think too much!


Christ Church Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery, Cold Spring, NJ

Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery, Cold Spring, NJ

St. Peter's Episcopal Cemetery, Lewes, DE

Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA (the anchor is leaning against the tree)

Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA

Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA (iron gate of family plot)

Hollisterville Cemetery, Hollisterville, PA

Hollisterville Cemetery, Hollisterville, PA

Laurel Grove Cemetery, Port Jervis, NY

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

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA (the Virtue of Hope.  Top part of her anchor has broken off)

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 (not the best angle, but the anchor is leaning against the cross, and the curved parts on the bottom have broken off)

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

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA (I wish this wasn't so eroded.  Were the chain links originally broken, or did time and weather do it?)

Milford Cemetery, Milford, PA

Northwood Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Pleasantville UCC Cemetery, Pleasantville, PA

Quakertown Union Cemetery, Quakertown, PA

St. Mary's Cemetery, Honesdale, PA (cross=Faith, anchor=Hope, sacred heart=Charity)

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

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

Riverside Cemetery, Norristown, PA

West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, PA

Hays Cemetery, Easton, PA

Hays Cemetery, Easton, PA


Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA


West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, PA

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA


Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery, Cold Spring, NJ (pilot in this case means the pilot or captain on a schooner as shown)

Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery, Cold Spring, NJ


Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

St. Peter's Episcopal Cemetery, Lewes, DE

St. Peter's Episcopal Cemetery, Lewes, DE

St. Peter's Episcopal Cemetery, Lewes, DE

1 comment:

Jessica Hanson said...

Amazing post/research. I found a grave with this symbol today in Murfreesboro, TN. I also thought it was odd but looked up info on it and came across your blog. Very informative. I love cemeteries and symbolism, as well.