Figli d’Italia

In the last decade of the 19th Century, tens of thousands came to the United States in the largest wave of immigrants to the U.S.  Previous immigrants had come from mostly Northern European countries, such as, England, Wales, Ireland, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries.  But in what is called the “third great wave” the immigrants were from Southern Europe—they were Slavs, Jews, and Italians.  The largest of those groups to emigrate were the Italians—over 3 million poured into the United States between 1900 and 1915.

In 1905, an organization called “Figli d’Italia” or “The Order of the Sons of Italy in America” was founded by Vincenzo Sellaro in New York City.  The aim of the organization was to help ease the transition for the Italian immigrants from their homeland of Italy to their new homeland.  The aid provided included helping newly arrived Italians learn English, find jobs, gain citizenship, get an education, and receive health and death benefits.  Lodges sprang up wherever there were pockets of Italians who needed assistance.

The logo for the organization depicts a striding lion in a circle.  Three words—Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity—are displayed underneath the lion and the name of the organization encircles the illustration.

Found in cemeteries where Italian immigrants and their descendants are buried are bronze metal markers that mimic the Order’s logo with the centerpiece being the lion.  The top of the circle displays the name of the organization and the bottom identifies the individual lodge and location of the lodge.

In this example in the St. Michael’s Cemetery in Jamaica Plains, the name of the lodge—Loggia Filippo Mazzei—and its lodge number –1930—and emblazoned in the bronze medallion standing next to the grave of an Italian immigrant as a testament to the pride of Italian ancestry and to the Order’s philanthropic work.

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The Sands of Time

The soap opera, Days of Our Lives, has as their catchphrase, “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” The meaning of that catchphrase is clear–life passes by very quickly.  Life measured by the grains of sand slip through one side of the hourglass to the other in a flash.

The hourglass symbol found in a graveyard, represents the same thought of time fleeting by quickly.  The stained glass window in the Rose Hill Cemetery Mausoleum depicts the hourglass with wings.  Another interpretation might be, “Time Flies.”

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St. Anthony of Padua

St. Anthony of Padua (August 15, 1195 – June 13, 1231) depicted in several statues in the Mount Wollaston Cemetery, in Quincy, Massachusetts, is portrayed in monks’ clothing holding the baby Jesus and lilies.  The book he holds is the Bible which is a symbol of how Christ first appeared to St. Anthony as he read the holy book.  St. Anthony is also known to have been very well versed in the Bible, as well as, a good preacher.  The lilies symbolize purity and innocence and when pressed into oil for anointing oil is oft referred to as St. Anthony’s oil.

Joseph is often portrayed similarly.  The difference is that when St. Anthony is holding baby Jesus, Jesus is resting on a book—sometimes open, sometimes closed.  The other difference, of course, is that Joseph does not wear monks’ robes.  You can also discern the difference by looking at the haircuts—Joseph with a a flowing head of hair and St. Anthony with a monk’s cut.

St. Anthony of Padua’s feast day is June 13.  He is the Patron Saint of a long list of items: lost things, including lost people and lost souls and those who are seeking lost things; animals, amputees, fishermen, elderly people, mariners, poor people, travelers, and runts of litters, among others.

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St. Dominic

The white marble statue of St. Dominic (August 8, 1170 – August 6, 1221) in the Calvary Cemetery in Erie, Pennsylvania, portrays a prayerful monk holding a book in one hand with the word “VERITAS” carved on the front and holding a cross in the other.  The statue also displays the Rosary, which St. Dominic helped to popularize through his preaching.

St. Dominic is the Patron Saint of astronomers.

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St. Benedict

Calvary Cemetery, Erie, Pennsylvania

Benedict of Nursia was a devout Christian born circa March 2, 480 and died between 543 to 547.  Spurred by what Benedict saw as increasing immorality of Roman life, he retreated to life as a monk in a cave near the town of Subiaco.  His seriousness and zeal attracted followers and eventually spread.  Eventually he established 12 communities of monks in Italy.

Benedict is most remembered, however, for a book that he wrote as a guide for monks and how they should live their lives called the Rule of Saint Benedict.  The short book is 73 chapters long divided in to two main parts—how to live a life devoted to God and how to manage a monastery.  Benedict even suggests that the day be divided into three equal parts; eight hours for sleeping, eight hours of manual work, and lastly, eight hours devoted to charitable works and reading sacred works.  Eventually his book was used as a model for monastic life throughout Europe.

Benedict was canonized in 1220 in Rome by Pope Honorius III.  St. Benedict is usually depicted in monk’s clothing and cowl holding a crosier or rod.  St. Benedict is the Patron Saint of farm workers, carvers, civil engineers, coppersmiths, spelunkers, schoolchildren, and monks.

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St. Andrew

According to Christian tradition, St. Andrew, like his brother Peter, was born in Bethsaida near the Sea of Galilee, and was also a fisherman, called by Jesus to be a “fisher of men.”  The sculpture of St. Andrew in the columbarium in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California, depicts St. Andrew holding a cross saltire, which is an x-shaped cross, also known as crux decussata.  Because the saltire has become so closely associated with St. Andrew it is most commonly known as St. Andrew’s cross.

Early accounts of St. Andrew’s crucifixion describe him tied to a Latin cross, though by the Middle Ages, he is said to have been crucified on the crux decussata.  As Peter did not want to be crucified as Christ had been, tradition tells us St. Andrew requested a different mode, as well, the x-shaped cross, the very cross that has become the symbol of St. Andrew.

In 832, on the eve of a battle in East Lothian, in what is now Scotland, Oengus was leading an outnumbered band of Picts and Scots against a force of Angles.  Oengus prayed for divine intervention.  Oengus vowed if his forces could achieve a victory he would promise to make St. Andrew the Patron Saint of the Scots.  Oengus waited for a sign as the dawn rose the next morning.  In the morning sky he saw clouds gather and form a white saltire.  The battle ensued and though outnumbered, Oengus and his troops were victorious.

According to legend, Oengus was good to his word, not only is St. Andrew is the Patron Saint of Scotland but a white St. Andrew’s cross on a sky-blue background makes the Scottish flag, reminiscent of what Oengus saw that victorious morning.

St. Andrew’s feast Day is November 30.  He is the Patron Saint of fishermen, fishmongers, textile workers, miners, singers, pregnant women, butchers, rope-makers, and butchers.

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St. Peter and the Keys to Heaven

St. Peter, depicted in a statue in the columbarium in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California, holds a pair of keys.  The keys are a symbol used to represent the saint and have their origins in scripture, specifically in the book of St. Matthew, King James Bible Chapter 16: verses 16-19:

16:  And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

17:  And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

18:  And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

19:  And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

And it was so, the Lord built His church on St. Peter with St. Peter becoming the very first pope.  In art St. Peter is often shown standing in front of the gates of heaven.  In addition to keys as a symbol for St. Peter, an inverted cross is also used to represent the apostle.  According to the historian Eusebius, St. Peter was crucified upside down because he did not think he was worthy enough to be crucified in the same way as Jesus Christ.  According to tradition, St. Peter bound to a cross upside down, preached the word for two days until he died.

St. Peter was a simple fisherman born in Bethsaida near the Sea of Galilee.  Christ said that St. Peter would be a “fisherman of men.”  St. Peter’s feast day is June 29, shared with the apostle Paul.  St. Peter is the patron saint of fishermen, shipwrights, and stonemasons.

Mosaic from the columbarium in the St. Francis Cemetery in Phoenix, Arizona

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