Profusion of Symbols

JULIET.

Wife of

ELISHA RODGERS

Died

June 8, 1849:

AGED

29 ys 7m & 8 ds.

I recently went looking for the Upper Mound Cemetery just to the West of Covington, Indiana.  Even though I located it on the map, I could not seem to find it.  I stumbled upon the small and very well-kept Lower Mound or Mound Cemetery—but not what I was looking for.  However, I did find a gentleman in the cemetery who gave me explicit directions to the Upper Mound Cemetery which, as it turned out, was only a mile or so away.  In fact, on my way to Lower Mound, I had passed right by it.  If it had not been for the directions from the stranger, I never would have located it.  There is no signage and the side of the lane next to the county road that takes you up to the cemetery is tree-lined and overgrown, completely obscuring a view of the graveyard.  It isn’t until you pull off the county road and look directly up the lane that you get a glimpse of gravestones that you know you are on the right track.

I was specifically looking for the gravestone of Juliet Rodgers.  I had seen a photo of the stone posted on one of the cemetery groups that I follow on Facebook and wanted to see the gravestone for myself.  The gray marble, square-top tablet is extraordinary.  A variety of lettering styles cut deeply and intricately, record the sad details of a far-too-young life cut short.

The top of the tablet depicts a curtain drawn back to reveal an elaborate tableau with a profusion of symbols rich with meaning. The curtain almost looks like it is pulled back as a stage curtain might be.   However, in funerary art the lifted curtain represents the passage from one realm to another; the veil that exists between the Earthly realm and the Heavenly one.

The lyre, the main symbol in the center of the tableau, is an u-shaped stringed instrument that was found in ancient Greece. The lyre was traditionally seen as a symbol of Apollo, the Greek god of music. In Christian symbolism it can represent harmony and Heavenly accord and song in praise of the Lord.  In funerary art, however, the lyre can also represent the end of life.  The lamb, seen here in the bottom left and laying down, is the symbol of the Lord, the Good Shepherd. It also represents innocence, often adorning the tombstones of infants and young children.

Twinning through the motif is a thistle.  The thistle is characterized by a purple or red flower that rests in a cup-shaped part of the stem and has prickly leaves and thorns that protect it from plant-eating animals. This flower, like so many symbols in funerary art, represents many different things. For instance, for Christians, the thistle, with its thorns, can symbolize the Passion of Christ—a reminder of Christ’s crown of thorns. It is also a symbol of earthly sorrow. After Adam ate of the Tree of Life, God said to Adam that the ground was cursed to him for disobeying Him and that Adam would eat in sorrow. God said that, “Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee….”  The thistle is also the floral symbol of Scotland most likely adopted by the Scots because, as legend has it, a Norse army was about to attack a Scottish army encampment when an opposing soldier stepped on a thistle. The soldier cried out alerting the Scots to the presence of the Norsemen. This legend is also likely to be the origin of the Scottish motto, Nemo me impune lacessit, which is translated as, “No one attacks me with impunity” or “No one can harm me unpunished.” The motto is a fitting slogan for the thistle, as well, because to eat it or pick it, one must overcome the thorns.

With everything that is carved into the stone, it is difficult to spot but there are also oak leaves and acorns to be found.  Because of the hardness of the oak tree, it is traditionally thought of as a symbol of strength.

On opposite sides at the top of the lyre is an apple and a rose giving the motif balance as both are cylindrical.  The apple is a symbol of sin, representing the Fall of Man when Adam ate the from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden.  However, some see the apple, because of the round shape as a symbol of eternity—the circle.  In the context of the apple being held by Jesus Christ, the apple represents salvation.

Maybe fittingly, the last symbol to note, is the rose—that represents love.  Romantics have waxed poetic about the rose and the connection to love for centuries which has made the rose an undeniable symbol of love.  On this gravestone, it is likely Elisha was expressing his love for his young, 29-year-old wife, Juliet.  The rose also has a religious meaning, differing by color.  The white rose symbolizes purity while the red rose represents martyrdom and the messianic hope that Christ will return.

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1 Response to Profusion of Symbols

  1. gsb03632 says:

    Wonderful! The photo is wonderfully crisp, too. And the work of G. Henderson, the cutter, should be studied further!

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