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

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bee Hives, Butterflies, Peacocks and Seashells

This blog is a potpourri of a couple of funerary symbols that are rare, and I have encountered only a few examples of each.   I like them, because of their “secret” meanings that actually will probably be pretty apparent, when you think about them.

Bee Hive

I only have one treasured example of a bee hive, and when I found it, I was with my mom.  She was looking at another tombstone, and I started jumping up and down, squealing, “A bee hive! A bee hive!”  Ma thought I had stepped on a bee hive, and she came running with her maternal instinct blazing.  It took her a few minutes to figure out what had actually happened to me.  And even then, I do not know if she realized I had had a taphophilian epiphany.  Sigh.  So misunderstood, am I.  Anyway, a bee hive is a symbol of an industrious Christian life.  Bees were adopted by the apostles as a symbol of their activities for establishing Christianity, and the hive is a symbol of the Church.  I wish this example was better defined, and included the name of the deceased.  If anyone ever sees another example of a bee hive or a bee, please let me know.

Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

"My Father," Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

The butterfly’s life cycle is a symbol of the Victorian hope for their own life cycle:  life as a lowly caterpillar, death in a cocoon, and resurrection as a butterfly soaring to hehe heaven.  The concepts of resurrection and a better afterlife were at the core of most 19th century symbols on tombstones.  I think the butterfly happens to be one of the most beautiful.

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Evergreen Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA

A Larger View of Last Photo, Evergreen Cemetery, Jim Thorpe (complete with real wasp's nest)

Two butterflies, one on the left at 9 o'clock, and the second above the roses, Montrose Cemetery, Montrose, PA

I only have one example of a peacock, and technically, it’s not a carving but a metal ornament added to a pyramidal family monument.  Peacocks are not common in American cemeteries, but they are more plentiful in European ones, according to Douglas Keister in Stories in Stone.  The many “eyes” on their feathers is a symbol of the all-seeing eye of God, and there is a legend that claims the peacock’s flesh never decays; hence, it symbolizes immortality.  Again, if you see a peacock in a cemetery (on a tombstone), holler to me.

Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Larger View, Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Seashells in funerary art usually are depicted as scallop shells (also known as a cockleshell).  According to Keister, the shell is a symbol of a journey or pilgrimage, and also represents the baptism of Christ.  There also might be a pagan association with rebirth into the afterlife, as the goddess Venus was portrayed by the artist Botticelli as coming out of a shell.  Plus there is always the possibility of finding a pearl inside a shell, so it could be a symbol of prosperity or a better life in the hereafter.  Thanks for blogging with me.

Zinc Tombstone with Clam Shell on Top, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Newark, NJ

Lamb in the Shell, Old Brick Reformed Church Cemetery, Freehold, NJ

A Sleeping Child in the Scallop Shell, perhaps symbolizing the family's treasured "pearl," Greenwood Cemetery, Howertown, PA

I found this stone, dated 1976, and yet same as the above, Canandensis United Methodist Cemetery, Canandensis, PA
A Second Zinc Tombstone with Clamshall at Top, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Newark, PA

Laura Virginia Dechert was 10 months old when she died.  The epitaph at the bottom reads:  "Fold her little hands together, Place her playthings out of sight, must the darling one be sleeping, Rest thee Laura dear goodnight."  Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV 

A year later, the family lost another child.  Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

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