The Tree of Life

This gray granite Steele in the Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, depicts an intricately carved Tree of Life with two opposing figures facing each other. The Tree of Life is found in many cultures and is an archetype found in religion, folklore, fiction, and culture.  Often depictions show two figures facing each together with the Tree in the middle.  Sometimes the characters represent deities or rulers.  In this case however, as the inscription on the bottom of the stone indicates, the figure on the right holding the lily represents youth while the bearded figure to the left symbolizes age—both standing before the Tree of Life. 

In funerary art the Tree of Life represents earthly or heavenly spiritual life with its meaning coming from Christian origins. The Tree of Life is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 2:9, “And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”  Later, again in Genesis 3:22, 23, and 24, “And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.  So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.”

To Catholics the Tree of Life represents the purity of life free from sin before the Fall. According to Saint Albert the Great, if the Tree symbolized Life, the Blood and Body of Christ represented the “fruit”.

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