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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