Soul-bearing Angels

c. 1860, Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York

Elisabeth L. Roark wrote an article about angels titled, “Embodying Immortality: Angels in America’s Rural Garden Cemeteries, 1850—1900”, pages 56 – 111, 2007 edition of Markers, XXIV, in which she wrote Catholics had embraced the concept of angels but Protestants were slow to. That changed in the second half of the 19th Century. She explains that there was an “invasion” of angels in rural garden cemeteries, which were for the most part Protestant graveyards. Roark explains in the article that Protestants accepted the concept of angels because they not only expressed a message of consolation but were also utilitarian—these angels performed tasks.

c. 1850, Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York

In this category of angels, the angels are depicted carrying the soul to Heaven. In most of the examples the author found, the angels were carved in bas-relief because of the complexity of carving them in the round.

c. 1860, Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio

All four examples are from the second half of the 19th Century—two from Green-Wood Cemetery at Brooklyn, New York, and two from Spring Grove Cemetery at Cincinnati, Ohio. In all but one case, the angels are bearing children’s souls to Heaven.

c. 1865-1895, Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio

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Eight Categories of Angel Monuments


In the 2007 edition of Markers, XXIV, published by the Association for Gravestone Studies, Greenfield, Massachusetts, Elisabeth L. Roark wrote an article about angels titled, “Embodying Immortality: Angels in America’s Rural Garden Cemeteries, 1850—1900”, pages 56 – 111.

Roark argues in her piece that while Catholic scholastics wrote a great deal about angels that some Protestants counterparts dismissed angels as “a hodge-podge.” She further writes that Protestants were more or less ambivalent about theories about angels that largely originated with a work about angels titled On the Celestial Hierarchy written around 500 CE by a Greek known as Pseudo-Dionysus the Areopagite. This writing stimulated other theologians, such as Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas, to write about angels.

Roark argues that angels were not “Romantic attempts to beautify death.” She writes, “while this was part of their appeal, angel monuments are far more complex in meaning and can act to reveal manifestations of popular Christian beliefs.”

According the article, angels come onto the scene in rural garden cemeteries in a big way starting in 1850 and then throughout the rest of the century. Though angels come in many variations and forms, in her study of 14 rural cemeteries from each region of America, Roark found that the majority of angels fall into the following eight categories:

  1. Soul-bearing Angels
  2. Praying Angels
  3. Angels who decorate and watch over the grave
  4. Pointing angels
  5. Recording angels
  6. Trumpet angels
  7. Michael the archangel
  8. Child angels


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Updated Version


The monument in the St. Raphael Church Cemetery, at Dubois, Indiana, has atop it a young female figure. Her head is bent forward, she is looking down in reflection and sorrow, while she is holding a rose bloom in one hand and clutching a floral wreath in the other. This is a common Victorian funerary symbol expressing the transitory nature of life.


The rose is a secular symbol for love and beauty but is also associated with the Virgin Mary—the rose without thorns. The rose, however, can also connote age. A rose bud, generally found on a child’s grave, represents the life that has yet to bloom. Often, in that case the bud will be on a broken stem indicating that the life was cut short. A partial bloom on the rose would indicate an older child, such as a teenager, while a full bloom, indicates the life of someone who has reached maturity.

The example below decorates a grave in the Fairmount Cemetery at Huntingburg, Indiana, from the 1990s. In this updated version, the mourning figure is not wearing flowing robes, but modern dress. She is knelling, holding roses as she leans forward in the act of laying a rose.



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Nancy Hanks Lincoln




Mother of President



Oct. 5, A.D. 1818

Aged 35 years

Erected by a friend of her martyred Son


Nancy Hanks Lincoln was born on February 5, 1784 in Campbell County Virginia, and died October 5, 1818, in Spencer County, Indiana, when Abraham Lincoln was only 9 years old.

The future president moved with his parents, Thomas and Nancy Lincoln, and sister, Sarah, in 1816. The family constructed a small cabin near Pigeon Creek. Two short years later, Nancy fell ill. Thomas, who was a carpenter by trade, constructed a pine coffin from trees on their property. Mrs. Lincoln was buried in a simple ceremony with a few neighbors and her family in attendance. The family moved from Indiana in 1830 and the gravesite was forgotten and fell into disrepair.


Years later a white marble pointed-arched tablet was erected to mark her gravesite located in a Pioneer Cemetery.


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The Garden


The night before Jesus was crucified, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray with three of his disciples—James, John, and Peter. Gethsemane was a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives just outside of Jerusalem, though the exact location is unknown today. According to Biblical accounts, Jesus prayed while his disciples slept. Judas easily betrayed Jesus because the Garden of Gethsemane was a place often frequented by Jesus for solace and prayer, making the arrest certain.

Many cemeteries have sculptures and artwork depicting Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Two such works can be found in the Westview Cemetery of Atlanta, Georgia. The stained glass window in the Westview Cemetery Mausoleum depicts Jesus praying. A small portion of the window shows the three disciples who fell asleep while Jesus prayed. The white-marble sculpture features a solitary Jesus looking to the Heavens in prayer.


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The Singing Evangelist


Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,

Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;

Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,

We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Refrain: Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,

We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves;

Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,

We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,

Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;

By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,

We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Going forth with weeping, sowing for the Master,

Though the loss sustained our spirit often grieves;

When our weeping’s over, He will bid us welcome,

We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

“Bringing in the Sheaves”, that great Protestant hymn, was written by Knowles Shaw in 1874. The hymn was inspired by the Bible verse, Psalm 126:6—“He that goeth forth and weepth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”

Knowles Shaw was an unlikely preacher and hymnist. He was born October 31, 1834, in Butler County, Ohio, and raised in Rushville, Indiana. He was the son of Albin and Hulda Knowles. At a young age, Shaw’s father lay dying and admonished his son to take care of his mother and siblings and to prepare to meet God. Shaw proved to be a scrapper and took all sorts of odd jobs—cobbler, carpenter, shop clerk, among others—to help his family make ends meet. One source of joy and income was the violin that Shaw’s father had left him. Shaw had musical talent and used the instrument to play at dances and parties. It was at one of the parties that Shaw had an epiphany. He would no longer use his instrument for entertainment but would dedicate his talent and his life to the Lord and for good purposes.


Knowles Shaw, who was not only a talented musician, was also a spirited speaker and preacher with a deep knowledge and understanding of the Bible, soon gathered a large following. His meetings would draw huge crowds where there would be singing, preaching, and baptisms of people coming to the Lord. It is estimated that Shaw baptized 20,000 during his tenure as a preacher. Knowles became known as “The Singing Evangelist.”

On June 7, 1878, died when the train he was riding in derailed and plunged into a ravine on his way to McKinney, Texas. When his body was returned to Rushville for the funeral, the crowd was large that his service had to be performed outside in the courthouse square to accommodate the throngs of mourners who wanted to pay their last respects.


Knowles Shaw’s white marble tombstone in the East Hill Cemetery at Rushville, Indiana, tells the story of his death, the epitaph reports his last words:



Of the church of Christ


Oct. 13, 1834.




JUNE 7, 1878.

INTERED JUNE 13, 1878.

It is a grand thing to rally

People to the cross.


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Hoosier Preacher




NOV. 4, 1864


73 YRS. & 9 MO.






MAR. 23, 1864


75 Years.



The white marble gravestone of Rev. James Havens can be found in section 1 of the East Hill Cemetery at Rushville, Indiana. The gravestone is described in the National Historic Places of Registration Form as “sculptural” and “a tall marble obelisk crowned with a small pyramid below which is a pediment on each side of the obelisk. The obelisk sits atop a broader base, at the front of which is a nearly full round portrait sculpture of Reverend Havens. A book written about Reverend Havens describes the monument this way, “the beautiful spire which marks his grave is a gift of his own children. Soon after his death, the administrators of his estate, Rev, George Havens and John Dixon, Esq., contracted for the erection of a marble monument at a cost of $2,500, which it was supposed would fully meet the wishes of his friends, and serve as an appropriate memorial of the distinguished itinerant. The stately and beautiful mausoleum is certainly creditable to the family and to the hero whose memory it perpetuates. It is composed of the finest grained Italian marble and exhibits fine mechanical skill and workmanship. And ornamented as it is with a striking bust in bas-relief of “the brave old man,” the presentation is as complete as it is beautiful and appropriate. Some, indeed, may think the display as extravagance, but nothing less would have done justice to the man or the minister, or have given to the present or coming generations any fair conceptions of his worth and virtues.”


Above the high bas-relief of Reverend Havens on the lower portion of the obelisk is a round metal marker affixed to the gravestone that shows a minister riding a horse.  The image is an appropriate one, especially for the Methodist clergy.  While many denominations had circuit riding ministers during the settlement of the Frontier, no single church grew at the rate of the Methodist church largely because of the horseback evangelism of the Methodist ministers.  In 1784, only 14,986 people belonged to the Methodist Church but by 1839, over 749,216 people were members.  The number of traveling clergy during that time had grown from 83 circuit preachers or “saddlebag ministers” as they were often called to over 3,500 serving congregants in the far-flung reaches of our new and sprawling country.  The circuit riders rode from village to village and met with people in homes, open fields, country stores, and courthouses, nearly anywhere, so they meet the needs of the people living in remote areas.  The tradition of the travelling clergy as they were officially called by the Methodist Church is gone, but Methodist churches can be found in every corner of the country largely because of the efforts of ministers who were willing to live a lonely life on the back of a horse spreading the Word.

Havens was a circuit-riding Methodist minister. Havens had humble beginnings—born in a log cabin in Kentucky. His mother, the daughter of a Baptist Minister, died when Havens was a boy and he was sent to live in Ohio with an older brother. At the age of fourteen James Havens heard the powerful preaching of James Finley, a Methodist circuit riding minister spreading the gospel out in the prairie. Havens was so taken with the message that he joined the church himself and devoted his life to be a life of virtue. Havens eclipsed the fame of his mentor, becoming widely known as the Hoosier Preacher. Havens had a very large circuit in Indiana and was known far and wide.


The Reverend Havens, according to the Honorable H. Smith, being quoted in a book written about the minister titled, James Havens: One of the Heroes of Indiana Methodism, written by Key. W. W. Hibben published by the Sentinel Company, of Indianapolis in 1872, said, “Mr. Havens was one of the most powerful preachers I ever heard, and I have no hesitation in saying that the State of Indiana owes him a heavier debt of gratitude for the efforts of his long and valuable life, to form society upon the basis of Morality, Education, and religion, than any other man living or dead.”


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