The Sheltering Branches of the Willow

On a slope south of Nashville, Indiana, lies the rural New Bellsville Cemetery founded in 1853.  The cemetery has a mix of old and new gravestones.  Among them, a limestone gravestone carved for Solomon Moore who it looks like died in 1856—the last two numbers of his death date are still discernable.  Unfortunately, much of the stone has flaked off and the rest of the inscription is gone.  However, the symbolism is clear—a Willow tree with its branches sheltering an obelisk and a sleeping lamb.

The obelisk on this gravestone is on top of a plinth and a base. The obelisk is a stone shape that is ubiquitous in American cemeteries and part of the Egyptian Revival Period which was inspired by the French and then the British presence in Egypt in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. The obelisk is said to represent a single ray of sunlight, petrified from sunlight into stone.  It was thought that the Egyptian sung god Ra lived within the obelisks.  These towering monuments were often placed flanking the entrance to temples.

The willow motif represents what one might expect; sorrow and grief, it is after all a “weeping” willow.  The lamb is the symbol of the Lord, the Good Shepherd. It also represents innocence, likely the reason why this motif often adorns the tombstones of infants and young children.

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