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Talking about graves: a final resting place

July 30th, 2021    Author:

A history of headstones

A headstone, tombstone, or gravestone is one of the oldest forms of funerary art, used to mark out a grave of the deceased. They are used for burials across many religions and faiths including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

While we use the terms interchangeably today, they were once different things. Originally a tombstone was the coffin itself, built of stone, or at least the stone lid to the coffin. The gravestone was different and was a stone slab laid over the grave. Back in the 18th century, footstones were also used – a small stone to show where the grave ended. These are not used anymore but it’s interesting that in some UK cemeteries today the stone is placed at the foot of the grave, not at the head.

Going back a couple of hundred years, some graves would also have stone all the way around to mark out the perimeter. You’ll still see some of these in older churchyards. As they cost money, graves and memorials were also a symbol of wealth or prominence in the community.

If you’ve ever wondered why older gravestones are tilted or away from others, that’s probably due to the soil movement that occurs over time, particularly on gentle inclines.

Typically stones will include the name of the deceased, their birth and death dates and a short personal message. Across Europe it’s very common to have a photo of the person, which you may recall seeing if you have visited or passed by graveyards abroad. People also place stones in the ground if loved ones have been cremated, or place a plaque on a memorial.

Another feature some stones have is pieces of art. This may include symbolic items. For instance, birds represent the soul, a book stands for faith and wisdom, an olive branch for forgiveness and peace, and a pillow symbolises eternal sleep, or effectively a deathbed.


Famous graves

So where are some of the most famous graves from the last few centuries located, and what do they look like?

Elvis Presley’s grave in Graceland, Memphis is one of the most visited graves in the world with around 600,000 visitors every year. He is buried alongside several members of his family around a beautiful water feature in the Meditation Garden.

Westminster Abbey is home to some of Britain’s greatest figures, including Elizabeth I, Chaucer and Charles Dickens, but it’s the tomb and monument of Sir Isaac Newton, which is the most impressive to look at. It’s made of white and grey marble with a sculptured figure of Newton leaning against a pile of scientific books with a globe above him.

William Shakespeare is entombed in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. Due to the age of the tomb, the words on his gravestone are almost too worn away to see, but they are thought to read: “Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare, To dig the dust enclosed here; Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones.”

How to choose a headstone

A headstone serves as a timeless tribute to the deceased and while you’re still in the early stages of the grieving process your thoughts are bound to be clouded by sadness. Don’t make any quick decisions, take your time and make sure you think through what you want. A temporary wooden maker can always be put in place while you make your final decision.

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is on the style of headstone. The most traditional design is the upright headstone, which is usually made from granite, limestone or marble. There’s also white marble and bronze. As well as the overall look, you’ll need to consider things such as durability, how clearly it will show an inscription, weather resistance and what kind of cleaning and maintenance it will require. And of course cost will be a factor. Granite is a popular choice as it’s a cheap option, highly durable and comes in different colours and finishes.

And then you’ll need to think about what words you want inscribed on the stone. The inscription usually includes the name of the deceased and their date of birth and death, along with an epitaph. Finding the right words can be the hardest part, which is another good reason not to rush things. You might want to choose something simple, such as ‘Gone but not forgotten’ or ‘Until we meet again’. Some people prefer a Bible passage, the verse of a poem or a memorable quote.

How to choose a headstone

July 25th, 2017    Author:

How to choose a headstone

Taking your time

Choosing a headstone can feel like a daunting task when you’re newly bereaved. The first thing you should know is that there’s no rush to make a decision. A headstone serves as a timeless tribute to the deceased and while you’re still in the early stages of the grieving process your thoughts are bound to be clouded by sadness. It’s often better to allow some time to pass – even if that’s several years – so you can think more clearly about how you’d like your loved one to be remembered.

 Church or cemetery burial?

When you’re ready to think about a headstone, bear in mind that your choice may be restricted according to whether the burial was in a church or cemetery. Generally you’ll find that cemeteries don’t have hard-and-fast rules and regulations. However, with churchyards there will be limitations. These will be dependent on the branch of the church and the local parish, but commonly include only allowing inscriptions that refer to Christianity, avoiding any reflective materials and finishes and not using bold colouring.

Deciding on a design

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is on the style of headstone. The most traditional design is the upright headstone, which is usually made from granite, limestone or marble. A smaller upright version is called a ‘desk tablet’ – also known as a DVT (Desk Vase Tablet). You can also have a ground-level flat headstone in granite or bronze or a ‘kerbed’ or ‘ledger slab’, which is a full-length, ground-level headstone.

Selecting the stone

Headstones come in a range of materials including slate, granite and limestone. There’s also white marble and bronze, though neither of these are permitted in churchyards. As well as the overall look, you’ll need to consider things such as durability, how clearly it will show an inscription, weather resistance and what kind of cleaning and maintenance it will require. And of course cost will be a factor. Granite is a popular choice as it’s a cheap option, highly durable and comes in different colours and finishes.

Finding the right finish

As well as the material, you’ll also need to choose a finish – and with this there are three options. A polished finish looks beautifully smooth and shiny, but the downsides are that it won’t be allowed by most churches and it will also need regular cleaning. Another choice is part-polished, where only the base and inscription is polished.  Then there’s honed, a church-friendly smooth but unreflective finish.

Composing a lasting inscription

The inscription includes the name of the deceased and their date of birth and death, along with an epitaph. Finding the right words can be the hardest part, which is another good reason not to rush things. Headstone engraving tends to be charged per letter or per word, so an epitaph will usually be fairly short and concise. You might want to choose something simple, such as ‘Gone but not forgotten’ or ‘Until we meet again’. Some people prefer a Bible passage, the verse of a poem or a memorable quote.

* We’re here to help you with all aspects of burial or cremation. Please contact us on 01438 316623.  You can see more examples of stone designs on our memorial page.

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