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Cemetery symbolism: what does an animal on a headstone signify?

In visiting a cemetery, you will see how different the headstones are in style and symbolism. Many headstones will have religious symbols like the angels, the cross and even roses. Previously we have looked at the symbolism for flowers and plants, and fruit and vegetables. In this blog we are looking at animals, real and mythical and what they mean when represented on headstones or as statues in cemeteries.

It turns out most symbols have many and varied meanings – and their representation significance can vary by country, the age of the deceased and how they died.

Bird: often a symbol of peace. If the bird is flying may represent the winged soul and resurrection as used in Ancient Egyptian times
Butterfly: often used for children and the soul, symbol of a short life, death and resurrection similar to the caterpillar, the chrysalis, and the butterfly.
Dove: a symbol of resurrection, innocence and peace
Dragon: a Western symbol of evil and the serpent. For Eastern nations it can be the symbol of imperial power and the universe
Dragonfly: Japanese national emblem, can also be a symbol of change and transformation, joy and lightness
Eagle: courage and fierceness, ascension, heavenly conqueror
Fish: Christianity and faith
Fox: cruelty, cunning and intelligence
Horse: courage or generosity
Lamb: innocence, on the grave of a child or the sacrificial lamb of God
Lion: guardian in the cemetery, protecting a tomb from unwanted visitors and evil spirits. It symbolizes the courage and bravery of the departed and strength
Owl: a symbol of the goddess of wisdom, Athena, wisdom and watchfulness
Ox: patience, strength
Peacock: incorruptibility of the fresh, and a symbol of immortality
Rabbit: humility, gentleness and self-sacrifice
Ram: sacrifice
Rooster: vigilance and wakefulness
Serpent: a Celtic symbol for eternity, the Egyptian symbol for life and health. A snake: Satan, sin, fall of man
Swallow: immortality, unity, nourishment of the soul – can indicate child or motherhood

Want to know more about symbolism, see our blog Headstone symbolism: what do plants, fruit and vegetables mean on headstones? Keep an eye out for more cemetery interest blogs on our website. 

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Sunday, 17 January 2021

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