History of Gravestones

History of Gravestones


Gravestones have been around for thousands of years and began when the deceased was buried near the home. The grave was marked with a stele or marker made from stone or wood. This was usually placed over the grave as a mark of respect and to stop the deceased from rising. The gravestone is also referred to as a grave marker, headstone or tombstone. In the case of two graves, it is known as a memorial marker, companion headstone, double deep marker or headstone for two.

Churchyards began in the Norman times when it was recognised that there was money to be made. Bodies were then placed in public cemeteries. The graves were usually marked with simple, slender headstones made from sandstone or slate and were a sign of wealth.

Over time, gravestones became more elaborate. The name, date of birth and death and a message or prayer were often carved into the gravestone. The headstone was made from a range of stones such as fieldstones, granite, marble and limestone, sandstone, slate, or other material such as iron, bronze or wood. Funerary art such as a bas relief carving was used and later on photographs of the deceased where attached to the gravestone which can still be found in Europe. Names of the relatives were often added over the years making a chronological timetable of the passing of the family over the decades.



Headstone by Simon Burns-Cox

Headstone by Simon Burns-Cox


Flush or Flat or Lawn-Level Marker which are at ground level

Upright Headstone

Bevel Marker where one side is slightly raised

Slant Marker which is similar to the Bevel Marker but is taller and larger

Ledger Marker which is a thick slab covering the grave

Standard Stone which is a simple tablet set into the ground

Domed Tablet which is a dome-shaped stone

Shoulder Tablet which has an angled top

Gothic Tablet stones or Obelisks which are tall columns.

The tombstone has a stone lid on the stone coffin or, as in the past, on the coffin itself, and the gravestone is a stone slab lying flat while the headstone is upright.

The headstone was placed at the head of the grave but sometimes also at the foot which indicated the length of the grave and respect for the deceased. In pagan times, the gravestone was west facing pointing towards the rising sun but in Christian and Jewish burials they were east facing according to biblical beliefs.

By the late 19th century, The Victorians had more elaborate gravestones made from white marble with detailed symbolic sculptures depicting faith, glory and hope with poignant inscriptions and epitaphs.  For example, The Angel of Death, The Dove, Flowers, Horseshoes, and The Weeping Willow. Marble, however, was not a good material for a gravestone as it does not weather well and many of the stones were destroyed by moss or lichen. For this reason, there was a move away from marble to grey granite. Today, there has been a return to the more simple gravestone often lying flat.

Simon Burns-Cox creates beautiful hand carved Gravestones, Memorials and Headstones and offers all types of Stone Letter Carving. He is based at The Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop in Edinburgh, Scotland.

If you would like to discuss your requirements for a Gravestone, Memorial or Headstone, please contact Simon Burns-Cox at [email protected] or visit his website at www.simonburnscox.co.uk

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