Graveyard

Graveyard
Cedar Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Show of Hands Before the Flesh Decays


Finger Pointing to "In Hope," Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia


Past blogs have talked about the use of hands on 19th-century tombstones.
          Giving Us the Finger
          The Final Handshake
          Gotta Hand It To Them

This blog highlights some of the more interesting examples I've found since writing the above blogs.

It has been said one of the most difficult objects to artistically reproduce is the human hand.  After viewing hundreds and hundreds of carved marble and granite fingers, shaking hands and hands holding something, I would have to agree.  Some of the examples below caught my interest because of the almost improbable arrangement of the digits and palms.  Try to hold your hand in the same way---get a cramp??  And yet, in other examples, we are obviously in the presence of a master carver, an artist who has truly been able to er, grasp (sorry!) the concept of a finely formed hand.  I love the details of the cuffs and the nails in some of them.

A quick overview of the symbolism of hands on gravestones:

A finger pointing up is showing the way to heaven.  Many times it is accompanied by a saying, such as "Meet Me In Heaven" or "Gone Before."

A finger pointing down does not mean the deceased is going to hell.  It represents the hand of God coming down to lift the deceased to heaven.  A hand reaching down to grasp a broken chain is again God reaching down to take the deceased--the broken link--to heaven.

A hand holding a wilted flower or bouquet symbolizes the mortality of life, as once a flower is cut from its stem, it dies.  A hand holding or pointing to a book usually represents the importance of religion to the deceased, as the book is the Bible. 

And two hands in a handshake symbolizes the final farewell.  Sometimes one hand is feminine and one is masculine, symbolizing the bond of matrimony that may be parted by death, but only temporarily, as the spouses will be united in the afterlife.  The one hand on the right may also be the hand of God to welcome the deceased (on the left) to heaven.  When a hand is seen coming out of clouds, it is definitely the hand of God descending from heavenly skies.  Sometimes one of the hands is holding out the index finger, which some maintain is part of a secret handshake from a fraternal organization, such as the Free Masons.  I have not found any definitive proof about this, however.

One of the things that amazes me is the variation of poses I have seen in gravestone hands.  A finger pointing up can be palm out or palm facing in.  Fingers can be slim, chubby, long or short, graceful or beefy.  But in terms of the handshake, it is always, always, always the same orientation:  to us, the viewers, the left hand is palm in and the right hand is palm out.  Every time, so far, in cemeteries in six states.  It is almost like there was an unspoken carvers' rule that said it must be done that way.  But other than that, differences abound.  And that is my favorite part of my search for symbols---the variation of artistic vision that characterize the carvings.  Enjoy the human touch. 

Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery, Cold Spring, NJ

Finger pointing to the break in the rose stem, Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Milford Cemetery, Milford, PA

Stone Church Cemetery, Stone Church, PA

"At Rest," Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery, Cold Spring, NJ

Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery, Cold Spring, NJ

Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery, Cold Spring, NJ

St. Mary of Mount Carmel Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

"Gone Home," Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

Deceased was an Odd Fellows member, Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

That's a bouquet, not broccoli, Old Hawley Cemetery, Hawley, PA

Tinicum UCC Cemetery, Tinicum, PA

"Not Here, But Risen," Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA
 
Mauch Chunk Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA

Mount Zion Cemetery, Pottsgrove, PA

Mount Zion Cemetery, Pottsgrove, PA

"Gone to the other land," Sandy Bank Cemetery, Spencers Corners, PA

Oh, to have the time to fix this!, St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

St. Paul's Lutheran Cemetery, Sassamansville, PA

Tennent Presbyterian Cemetery, Tennent, NJ

Trinity Lutheran Cemetery, Taneytown, MD

This used to have a finger pointing to the clouds of heaven, Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

Newton Cemetery, Newton Ransom, PA

Two Fingers Up!, Mauch Chunk Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA

The palm in the middle with the heart is a sign of charity, a tenet of the Odd Fellows fraternal organization.  The symbol on the left, the 3 chain links, are the main Odd Fellows symbol.  And the symbol on the right is the Order of United American Mechanics, a nativist organization against immigration.  (altho their forefathers had been...immigrants), Laurel Cemetery, White Haven, PA

The anchor is a Christian symbol of hope, Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

New Goshenhoppen Union Cemetery, East Greenville, PA

Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

Mumma Cemetery, Antietam Battlefield, Sharpsburg, MD

Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

Trinity Lutheran Cemetery, Taneytown, MD

Clifford Cemetery, Clifford, PA

Stone Church Cemetery, Stone Church, PA

Stone Church Cemetery, Stone Church, PA

Hand of God grasping the broken rose bud, Old Free Church Cemetery, West Long Branch, NJ

Susquehanna Depot Cemetery, Susquehanna Depot, PA

Can you find the hand?  Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

God grasping the broken chain, Kizer Cemetery, Cortez, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Newark, NJ

Boehm's UCC Cemetery, Blue Bell, PA

Christ Covenant Church, Harleysville, PA

Tennent Presbyterian Cemetery, Tennent, NJ

"The Lord watch between me and thee when we are absent from one another," West Long Branch United Methodist Cemetery, West Long Branch, NJ
 
Mount Zion Cemetery, Pottsgrove, PA

Salford Mennonite Cemetery, Harleysville, PA

Kaiserville Cemetery, Kaiserville, PA

Hand holding wheat sheaf, a symbol of a life well lived, Centreville Cemetery, Stone Church, PA

Rare symbol, Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA

Thompson Cemetery, Thompson, PA

Equinunk Cemetery, Equinunk, PA

Susquehanna Depot Cemetery, Susquehanna Depot, PA

That's a calla lily (beauty, purity) in the middle.  This is very moving, Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Ackermanville United Methodist Cemetery, Ackermanville, PA

Centreville Cemetery, Stone Church, PA

Centreville Cemetery, Stone Church, PA

Clifford Cemetery, Clifford, PA

Mumma Cemetery, Antietam Battlefield, Sharpsburg, MD

Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, PA

Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, PA

I want to see you do this with your fingers, Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA

And this move, Gilbert Cemetery, Gilbert, PA

I think, since both hands are coming out of clouds, this meeting is taking place in heaven, Indian Creek Christ Reformed Cemetery, Indian Valley, PA

Whoa, not good, not good, Lyons Street Cemetery, Tirzah, PA

Moravian Cemetery, Staten Island, NY

Cramping, cramping, Mountainview Cemetery, Upper Exeter, PA

Another Odd Fellow, Mt. Bethel United Methodist Cemetery, Myersville, MD

Mt. Joy Lutheran Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA

The "I think you have cooties" handshake, Old Falkner Swamp UCC Cemetery, Gilbertsville, PA

Look at the ring on her index finger!!, Zion Hill Cemetery, Coopersburg, PA

Sassaman's Reformed Cemetery, Sassamansville, PA

Sharpsburg Lutheran Cemetery, Sharpsburg, MD

Never saw a crooked thumb before, St. Paul's Cemetery, Stone Church, PA

Stark Cemetery, Starksville, PA

Trinity Lutheran Cemetery, Taneytown, MD

Union Cemetery, Blakely, PA

Wentz's UCC Cemetery, Worcester, PA

"Gone but not forgotten."  Indeed.  Zion Hill Cemetery, Coopersburg, PA

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