The Circle and the Hourglass

In memory of

Mrs. Mary Baxter

Widow of

Gregory Baxter

Who died Nov. 11, 1789

In the 88th, year

Of her age.

Mary Baxter’s dark gray slate tombstone in the Hancock Cemetery in Quincy, Massachusetts, portrays a woman, presumably Mary, holding a circle and an hourglass.

The two symbols are seemingly at odds with one another.  The metaphor of the hourglass suggests the grains of sand slip through one side of the hourglass to the other in a flash as do the minutes of our life.  The hourglass motif on a gravestone symbolizes time fleeting by quickly.

The message of the complete or unbroken circle, however, represents hope, inspiration, and eternal life.

How can these two symbols be compatible?

On the one hand, the hourglass symbolizes the mortal body that does not last long, while on the other hand, Mary holds the circle representing the spiritual life.  The circle emphasizes no beginning and no end.  Death on Earth for the mortal body, eternal life in Heaven for the soul.

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