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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