The History of Headstones
Unless choosing details for a loved one, we rarely think about the history of headstones and the role they play in the burial tradition. Though headstones allow us to browse the annals of history as we walk through burial sites, headstones in and of themselves have undergone significant changes over the course of history. Not only have we progressed from rolling stones over the bodies of the dead to prevent animals from exhuming them, but we have also added significant symbolism into the practice of raising headstones.
As far back as the Neanderthals, humans have buried other humans. Our burial tradition began with burying bodies in pits in caves. When situations called for outdoor burial, ancient peoples covered those bodies with large stones so animals could not remove the bodies from their graves. For superstitious cultures, the rocks also ensured that bodies would not rise from the dead.
Over time, headstones have taken on different roles in the way we remember past loved ones. In ancient Rome, headstones told epic stories about the battles in which the deceased took part. Ancient Jewish peoples developed the tradition that extends to this day of funeral attendees placing a stone on the grave of the deceased. At the time it protected against animals and grave robbers, now the tradition symbolizes the relationship with the deceased and adds a feeling of solidarity between mourners.
The history of headstones and their role in our society portrays the history of attitudes, beliefs and livelihoods held by man over time.
When St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland, the tradition of marking graves with stones and monoliths changed to marking graves with Celtic crosses. Originally a pagan symbol, the Celtic cross came to symbolize the Christian afterlife. As Christianity spread to the West, the legacy of headstones and churches mixed. Soon headstones featured religious quotations demarcating the piety of the life of the deceased.
The Victorian era popularized elaborate memorial headstones upon which were carved personalized epitaphs, often religious or literary. The style of these headstones was often indulgent, depicting praying angels, clasped or steepled hands, or giant crosses. These headstones were often crafted from marble, limestone, and sandstone, but as these types of stone are prone to decay and moss and lichen growth, headstones today are made primarily from igneous rock, which lasts longer.
The history of headstones as we know them allow bereaved friends and family members to remember the loved ones they have lost. Headstones provide a location through which we can connect to our dearly departed.
Bayer Cemetery Brokers can help you prepare for the loss of a loved one. We’ll get you set up and organized for every step of the process, from headstones to grave plots. Contact us to set up an appointment today.