The History of Tombstones

After the passing of your loved one and the initial grief and emotions have subsided, now the “business” aspect of the death takes center stage. Death certificate, bank accounts, bills, debt, assets, will, trust, and the list goes on and on. And probably there’s something you forgot as well that will crop up down the road.

THE HISTORY OF TOMBSTONES

One of the first things you must do after the burial service of your loved one is decide on a tombstone. But how did this tradition begin?

Since the beginning of time, humans have an innate need to remember the deceased after the burial service. A tombstone, otherwise known as a gravestone, headstone, or markers, first appeared as rough stones, rocks, or wood laid on the deceased as a way to keep the dead from rising. Tombstones as we think of them were first thought to have been used in 3000 BC by the Romans and Celts. When few people could read or write, tombstones were simply marked: with the deceased person’s name, age, and birth date and/or year of death.

When important figures in a culture died, royalty or leaders for example, tombstones became larger and square-shaped and able to hold more writings. Simple plots on family farms evolved into churchyard burials and the haphazard rocks chosen for tombstones became made out of slate or sandstone, soft stones which are easy to carve.

As the population of the planet grew, bigger areas to hold the dead were needed, thus the advent of public cemeteries in the 1800s. People wanted to remember their loved ones well beyond death after the burial service, so the idea to turn tombstones into memorials was born. More and more information was added to the stone and the stones became bigger and more elaborate in nature. Symbols, designs, and artwork were added to personalize the tombstone with popular choices being religious symbols (crosses, saints, stars, and angels), occupational designs (sword, saw, ax, and horse), and nature symbols (trees, flowers, and mountains).

In the 1860s stronger materials were desired for tombstones as the soft stones broke easily, suffered erosion, and thus, the lettering gradually faded away, obscuring the person below. Igneous rock began to be used, and today granite, marble, and slate are popular choices.

TOMBSTONES TODAY

Tombstones today continue to evolve. Bible sayings are popular as are quotes and sayings of hope and inspiration. Actual photographs adorn tombstones, memorializing the image of the deceased forever. Placing flowers, another tradition we can thank the Greeks for, is still popular today, and many tombstones have built-in flower pots.

Blooming flowers on the grave of a warrior was a sign he had found happiness in the afterlife in ancient times. The ancient Romans, borrowing from their Greek brethren, were the first to unilaterally lay flowers on graves after the burial services. Grief-stricken Americans chose flowers to represent their grief upon the shock of Abraham Lincoln’s death. And Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day, which was a day Americans laid flowers on graves of soldiers.

Dolan Funeral Home in Chelmsford, MA, aims to make the funeral planning process efficient, simple, and worry-free. We are proud to offer up food options for the visitation and funeral and an amazing aftercare program to help you with the overwhelming tasks ahead. In part two of this series, Dolan Funeral Home will offer up tips for choosing tombstones. Contact us today!

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