Christian Headstone Traditions

A Christian headstone can be simple or ornate.
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Headstones are typically made from common field stones, slate, granite and other locally available stone. Softer materials, like wood, are easier to carve, but are not as durable as the harder stones. The Judeo-Christian culture traditionally faced grave markers towards the east, to symbolize facing the light of Jesus, or the morning light.

1 Headstone Shape

Ppeople have chosen various shapes for a traditional headstone, with the most common being a rectangular tablet stone. This stone can be secured onto a base or straight into the ground. Slight alterations can be made to the tablet stone, rounding off or angling the top to a point. A more elaborate Gothic tablet stone features ornamental designs at the top of the tablet. A stroll through a Christian cemetery might also reveal a simple flat marker that is less expensive and makes landscaping easier for the groundskeeper.

2 Basic Information

The basic information of the departed is generally engraved directly onto the headstone. For a shared family marker, the family surname is featured along the top of the stone. Beneath, engravers carve the person’s full name along with his birth and death dates. A nickname can also be written with the deceased’s name.

3 Symbols

Christians designing their own headstones, or headstones for a loved one, often select symbols and emblems with a spiritual meaning. An anchor is the Christian symbol for hope while angels indicate God’s guardians watching over the departed. The cross represents the Christian faith as a whole, and a candle denotes Jesus, the Light of the World. Symbols can represent God’s power, like a roaring lion, or Christ’s victory over death, such as the palm that is used during Easter celebrations.

4 Epitaph

The final marking on a Christian headstone is the epitaph, or an inscription about the person buried. Family members can write their own phrase or poem to put on the grave marker, or they may select a Bible passage to offer hope to anyone who will visit the grave in the future. Encouraging phrases include, “Resting in the arms of Christ,” “Walking hand in hand with our Lord” or “May God keep you in his loving care.” For a life that was lost too early in life, the epitaph can read, “On this earth just a while, but your memory will never leave us” or “Our precious baby, not enough time on this earth to know our love.”

Kimberly Dyke is a Spanish interpreter with a B.A. in language and international trade from Clemson University. She began writing professionally in 2010, specializing in education, parenting and culture. Currently residing in South Carolina, Dyke has received certificates in photography and medical interpretation.