Chains, broken and unbroken






April 3, 1856

AE. 61 Y’s. 2 M’s.

Two gravestones from the same cemetery in West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, display a chain in a circle. This symbolism is the combining of two symbols—the circle and the chain. Traditionally the “circle” is a metaphor for life.  The circle represents eternity. The chain as a Christian symbol dates back to medieval times when people believed that the soul could be held to the body by a golden chain. Once the chain was broken, the soul took flight and rose from the body leaving Earth and ascended to Heaven.


The square-top white marble tablet of Daniel Hallettt above displays a circle of links but shows the chain broken or missing a link. The epitaph on the gravestone is “UNITED ABOVE.” Like much of the funerary art, the broken link of a chain represents the life that was ended. The message being conveyed is that death separates us, the circle of life is broken here on Earth, but we will be re-united in Heaven.




Widow of

Eugene Crowell.

Born Aug. 24, 1823,

Died Dec. 25, 1902.

In the case of the tombstone for Mrs. Betsey Crowell, who died on Christmas day, the circle of chain links is also the symbol displayed on the gravestone, but the circle is unbroken. The epitaph is exactly the same, “UNITED ABOVE.”. In this example, the message is not focused on what happened on Earth, that is the breaking of the chain—death, but instead what happens in Heaven, the uniting of the chain.


These two gravestones use the same symbolism and the same epitaph but the message of one focuses on death and one focuses on resurrection. The message of the complete circle is one of hope and inspiration while the broken chain emphasizes the death on Earth.

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