Child Angels

Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York

The last type of angel that Elisabeth L. Roark wrote about in her, “Embodying Immortality: Angels in America’s Rural Garden Cemeteries, 1850—1900”, pages 56 – 111, 2007 edition of Markers, XXIV, were child angels. Raork writes that the child angels should “not be confused with cherubs or putti, who are represented nude or lightly draped and are also found in the rural cemeteries, child angels typically appear to be two to five years old and wear simple shifts. Like their adult counterparts, they usually gaze at the grave, pray, record, or hold flowers.”

Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky

Even though mortality rates in the late 19th Century were going down, infant and child death was extremely common. Roark theorizes that because a child’s death was such a family tragedy it required a more consoling message. “Cemetery historian, David Sloan, described rural cemeteries as ‘scenes of adoration of dead youth.’”

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia

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Sword-bearing Angels

Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York

Elisabeth L. Roark wrote an article about angels titled, “Embodying Immortality: Angels in America’s Rural Garden Cemeteries, 1850—1900”, pages 56 – 111, 2007 edition of Markers, XXIV, in which she categorized the eight most commonly found types of graveyard angels—grouped by the task they performed: soul-bearing; praying; decorating and guarding; pointing; recording; trumpeting; sword-bearing (archangel Michael); and child angels.

St. Michael is featured in many cemetery sculptures. Only the Archangel Michael is clothed in armor.  The sword he carries represents a cross but also a weapon in his war against the devil’s warriors.

Archangel Michael is a Christian soldier fighting Satan’s hordes.   Archangel Michael is often represented standing on a worm or a dragon.  In dramatic examples, St. Michael is depicted plunging his sword into Satan’s mouth as he stands on the vanquished enemy.  Satan, of course, is depicted as a dragon. The Archangel Michael is also considered the guardian of souls.

Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York

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Trumpet Angels

Lakeview Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio

Trumpet angels not only foretell of the impending apocalypse and that the last Judgment is at hand but also as “embodiments of the resurrection.” According to the article, “Embodying Immortality: Angels in America’s Rural Garden Cemeteries, 1850—1900”, pages 56 – 111, 2007 edition of Markers, XXIV, written by Elisabeth Roark, of the eight common categories of angels found in rural garden cemeteries only the trumpet angels are commonly found in cemeteries before the 1850s.

An example of that can be found in the Cave Hill Cemetery at Louisville, Kentucky. On the top third of the gravestone of Major General John King, who died in 1828, an angel is depicted flying amid billowing clouds.  The angel is blowing a horn and carrying a laurel wreath.

Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky

After the 1850s trumpet angels appear more frequently and often as full sculptures rather than bas-reliefs. The angels are often depicted looking toward to Heavens with an almost serene expression unlike the trumpet angels found in the Book of Revelation. The seven trumpet angels in Revelation “are a ferocious lot; each trumpet blow brings a disaster that destroys earthly life.”

Highland Cemetery, Terre Haute, Indiana

The trumpet angels found in rural garden cemeteries are watchful and calm by comparison.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia

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Recording Angels

Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, New York

In the article, “Embodying Immortality: Angels in America’s Rural Garden Cemeteries, 1850—1900”, pages 56 – 111, 2007 edition of Markers, XXIV, written by Elisabeth Roark, she categorized the eight most commonly found types of graveyard angels—which included recording angels.

The recording angels depicted here are shown with wings. Winged figures in a cemetery are instantly recognize as an angel–a messenger of God.  However, Christian art did not depict angels with wings until the fourth century.  Before then, angels were represented in several different forms–sometimes in human form, but also represented as a dove, or even just as a hand reaching down to Earth from the Heavens.  Beginning with the reign of Constantine, angels began being depicted with wings, as we commonly portray them today. “Based on the winged Greco-Roman Nike or Victory, their form thus embodied Christianity’s promised triumph over death. Medieval and Renaissance tombs often featured angels that attended images of the deceased.”

Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky

This recording angel, carved out of white marble, has an open book resting on his knee and a quill in his hand.  The angel is youthful, dressed in a short, knee-length tunic. These depictions are reminiscent of “boyish winged figures that appeared on ancient Roman sarcophagi and are considered another possible source for Christian angels.”

The angel is clearly poised to write in the book.  Here the angel is registering the name of the deceased into the Book of Life.  In Judaism and Christianity, the names of the righteous were recorded in the Book of Life; they were assured entry into Heaven.

Fairmount Cemetery, Huntingburg, Indiana

The Book is referenced many times in the Bible (King James Version), including Revelation, Chapter 20,

Verse 12: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God: and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”

Verse 13: “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.”

Verse 14: “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death.”

Verse 15: “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

Not all of the recording angels are depicted writing names into books. The angel in the bas-relief from the Cave Hill Cemetery at Louisville, Kentucky, is writing the name onto a shield.

Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky

And in some cases, the recording angel is depicted as a cherub.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia

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Pointing Angels

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia

In the article, “Embodying Immortality: Angels in America’s Rural Garden Cemeteries, 1850—1900”, pages 56 – 111, 2007 edition of Markers, XXIV, written by Elisabeth Roark, she categorized the eight most commonly found types of graveyard angels—which included pointing angels.

Erie Cemetery, Erie, Pennsylvania

The hand with a finger pointing upwards is a commonly found motif. The finger pointing upwards, indicates the soul traveling to Heaven, sometimes a presumptuous claim, though a hopeful one. The finger pointing upwards motif was often coupled with other symbols:

  • a willow tree, a traditional symbol of sorrow indicating while the soul of their loved one has gone to Heaven, the family on Earth mourns the loss and grieves for their loved one
  • the crown symbolizing victory. Sometimes the combination of the images represent the flight of the soul from the earthly realm to the Heavenly realm

Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York

However, the angel pointing upwards originated from depictions of angels at Jesus’s sepulcher sitting beside His tomb. Roark writes, “pointing angels were often connected with guardian angels but attended to the bereaved as much as the deceased, fulfilling their role as messengers.”

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia

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Angels Who Decorate and Watch Over the Grave

Westview Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia

Elisabeth L. Roark wrote an article about angels titled, “Embodying Immortality: Angels in America’s Rural Garden Cemeteries, 1850—1900”, pages 56 – 111, 2007 edition of Markers, XXIV, in which she categorized the eight most commonly found types of graveyard angels—grouped the task they performed: soul-bearing; praying; decorating and guarding; pointing; recording; trumpeting; sword-bearing (archangel Michael); and child angels.

Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, New York

Angels are mentioned over 270 times in the Bible but of the eight categories of angels that Roark describes in her article, this is the only type with this task that is not specifically defined in the Bible. Roark notes that decorating graves with flowers originates with the ancient Greeks, this type of symbolism, however, is something newly found in graveyards of the 19th Century. After the Civil War, it became popular to decorate graves lavishly with flowers. Roark writes, “Like their live counterparts, the angels’ sculpted flowers suggest the parallels drawn at this time between the cyclical nature of plant life and human birth, death, and resurrection.”

Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, DC

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Praying Angels

Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, DC

Elisabeth L. Roark wrote an article about angels titled, “Embodying Immortality: Angels in America’s Rural Garden Cemeteries, 1850—1900”, pages 56 – 111, 2007 edition of Markers, XXIV, in which she categorized the eight most commonly found types of graveyard angels—grouped the task they performed: soul-bearing; praying; decorating and guarding; pointing; recording; trumpeting; sword-bearing (archangel Michael); and child angels.

Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri

The winged protectors served to watch over the “soul while living, removed occasions of sin and provided protection when danger threatened, interceded on their charges’ behalf, attended at death, eased the transition to the next world, conducted the soul to Heaven, and looked after the gravesite and the deceased’s remains until resurrection.” These were busy angels. In addition to those duties, the praying angels served as an intercessor conveying messages from their charges to Heaven. These angels usually are looking upward toward the Heavens, hands clasped together in prayer, sometimes coupled with emblems of faith, such as, anchors and crosses, often clad in toga-like clothing.

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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