|St. James Episcopal Cemetery, Bristol, PA|
This is a revival of a post from 2011 about eternal flames. Since I've always had a thing for candles (including an incident where I was playing with a candle and set the living room rug on fire when I was 12), I really love the flames carved of stone that provide a permanent "light" over the graves of those gone before. (Okay, I am sure you have questions: I was told not to play with the candle, I did it anyway, it was a very small fire and it was a very ugly rug. All in all, we got a nicer rug.) It's rare that an eternal flame on a tombstone is atop a candle. Usually, it's on an oil lamp, something the 21st century rarely uses these days. But oil lamps and their gift of light were crucially important and have provided spiritual inspiration for centuries.
The eternal flame, a flame that burns day and night for an indefinite period, is found in many cultures, both ancient and current. It is also known as a sanctuary lamp. There are early Greek references to Persian “Great Fires,” and to an eternal flame attended to constantly by Zoroastrian priests. Moses the Jewish prophet oversaw the construction of the first menorah in the tabernacle in the Jerusalem temple. Later, when the Maccabees rebelled about 167 BC against the empire established by Alexander the Great, they reclaimed the temple in Jerusalem and rekindled the menorah’s eternal flame. They only had enough oil for it to burn for one day, and it would take eight days to get more oil. And yet, miraculously, the menorah’s flame kept burning until the new oil arrived. This story is celebrated during Hanukkah. The flame also symbolizes God’s eternal presence, which is never extinguished.
Christians also have an eternal flame, usually on the altar, for the practical purpose of worship at any time, but also for the symbolism of the light of Christ shining always in the dark. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has an eternal flame burning to honor the sacrifice of soldiers killed in the line of duty, and President John F. Kennedy’s grave features an eternal flame commemorating him, the first time this honor was given to one person. (Information from Wikipedia.com)
Eternal flame symbols are common on graves in the 19th century, but continue even today, perhaps illustrating that the ones left behind will never forget their loved one who has gone before.
|When the iron is no longer routinely painted, Cold Spring Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Cold Spring, NJ|
|I prefer marble to granite, but granite does allow for great ornamentation, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA|
|This is an odd one, like the volcano science project from 8th grade, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA|
|The eternal flame symbol was a very popular symbol in late 19th century iron fencing around family plots, Old Brick Reformed Church Cemetery, Freehold, NJ|
|Mockingbirds follow me all the time in cemeteries, Old Tennent Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Malapan, NJ|
|Ahhhh...autumn is my favorite time for cemetery-hopping! Zion's Stone Church Cemetery, New Ringgold, PA|