Did you know that many of the images depicted on gravestones aren’t simply there to look attractive, but actually have symbols behind them? Here are a few animal symbols and their meanings:
Ants – Christian industry.
Bats – The underworld. (but uncommon)
Bees – Resurrection; risen Christ.
Bird/s in flight – Symbolic of the “winged soul.” Sometimes point out the graves of children, eternal life.
Butterfly – The soul, resurrection. (rare)
Cardinal – Passion for life.
Cobra – Death (an Egyptian influence).
Cocoon – Like the butterfly, points to the metamorphosis to the afterlife.
Chrysalis – Christian metamorphosis; resurrection.
Dog – Dogs often appear at the feet of medieval women, signifying the loyalty and inferior place of each in the chivalric order. Modern dogs only imply that the master was worth loving.
Dolphin – Resurrection.
Dove and Olive Branch – Peace, and a sign of God’s forgiveness.
Dove – Represents the Holy Spirit.
Eagle – Courage,possibly a military career, symbol for Saint John.
Egg – Regeneration.
Frog – Depicts sin and worldly pleasures, or may represent resurrection.
Fox – Cruelty, cunning.
Horse – Courage or generosity. An attribute of St. George, St. Martin, St. Maurice and St. Victor, all of whom are represented in Christian art on horseback. It was in honor of the crusaders.
Lamb – This is the most common animal symbol found on a child’s grave. The lamb appears throughout the ages with great regularity in Christian art and because it is a symbol of Christ in his sacrificial role and personifies: innocence, meekness, gentleness and humility.
Lion – Symbolizes the power of God and guards the tomb against evil spirits. Also can suggest the strength of the departed.
Lion, Winged – St. Mark the Evangelist.
Mermaids (or Sirens) – From mythology, which was a part of the Puritan’s life. Sirens or mermaids were the messengers of Prosperina and were sent to carry the souls of the dead to Hades.
Owl – Wisdom.
Ox, Winged – Symbol of St. Luke the Evangelist.
Pelican – Charity (also reflects a longer story about their own blood) Catholic meaning: The Pelican is a symbol of the atonement and the Redeemer and is often found in Christian murals, frescos, paintings and stained glass. The pelican was believed to wound itself in order to feed its young with its own blood.
Ram – Like the lamb,means sacrifice.
Rooster – Awakening to resurrection. Vigilance.
Serpent- Ancient Egyptian symbol for life and health. Shown swallowing its own tail it represents eternity.
Sheep & Goats – Christians and non-believers.
Squirrel with a nut – Religious meditation.
Snake – Sin, Satan, fall of man.
Snake with Tail in Mouth – Eternity, unity.
Stag – Life, Wisdom, Regeneration and Growth, Virility. Because its antlers resemble branches, the stag has been associated with the Tree of Life. Because its antlers renew yearly, it has been used as a symbol of regeneration.
Swallow – Indicates a child or motherhood.