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Cemetery Symbolism Part 5 Symbolism of other groups

A photo-story/fact sheet resource set that introduces students to the symbolism of other cultural groups, and fraternal organisations we see in heritage cemeteries and the meanings they held for Victorians that are often hidden from us today.



The many historic cemeteries that dot our towns and countryside leave us a legacy of history, art and culture, which today, we struggle to understand.

These cemeteries are places where our ancestors and loved ones rest and where we today can make contact with the past by observing and coming to understand the beliefs, attitudes, and deeper meanings that are embedded in the material culture and literature of the past.

Visual symbolism on graves has been present for as long as such memorials have existed and use of such symbolism continues.



  • Three links in a chain is symbolic of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The Odd Fellows are also known as the three-link fraternity. The links represent Friendship, Love and Truth and the letters F, L and T can sometimes be included within the links of the chain on a cemetery memorial.

Fraternal Organisations

  • The Odd Fellows was formed in 1700s England as a working-class, social and benevolent society. Death care, including funerals, and organisation of cemetery plots was one of the major benefits of Odd Fellows membership.

(Keister, D. 2004)

Northern Cemetery, Dunedin.



  • The square and compass, said to represent the interaction of mind and matter and refer to the progression from the material to the intellectual to the spiritual, is symbolic of the Freemasons.

Queenstown Cemetery

  • Freemasonry's purposes arecharitable work within a local or wider community, individual moral uprightness, belief in God, and promotion of friendship.

Fraternal Organisations

  • There are symbols for various degrees of knowledge attained within the Masonic Order that you may see on headstones of freemasons. The three Ts joined at the base within a triangle is a symbol for a Royal Arch Mason.

Triangle and joined T symbols Bardadoes St. Cemetery Christchurch

(Keister, D. 2004)


Loyal Order Orange Lodge (L.O.L.)

  • The Loyal Order Orange Lodge is an Irish protestant fraternity that commemorates William of Orange, the Dutch prince who became King of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1688. The order has had a long history of involvement in Irish troubles since its beginning in 1795.Wikipedia URL:
  • The LOL promote biblical protestantism and has strong links to British Unionism. Note the similarity of symbols on the poster and the headstone.

Fraternal Organisations

There is an interesting array of symbols featured on this headstone. There is an Orange Order Poster displaying historical and religious symbolism that is available at

Addington Cemetery, Christchurch.


Jewish Symbols


  • 1. The Star of David is a symbol of divine protection and is probably the most well known of all Jewish symbols.


  • 2. This sign is found on most Jewish headstones. It is Hebrew for “Here Lies”.

All examples Southern Cemetery, Dunedin.

Non Christian Symbolism

  • 3. The ewer or the pitcher signifies a Levite, a person who was responsible for cleaning the hands of the temple priest before a religious service. Levites were also musicians and singers.


(Keister, D. 2004)

Seaton, L. (2004).


Dead man’s Penny

  • These commemorative medals along with colour scrolls and a letter from King George V were presented to the next of kin of the men and woman who were killed in action during the First Word War.

War Symbolism

  • This brass medal was commonly known as the “dead mans penny” and was occasionally inserted into the family memorial as this example in Timaru.
  • Each medal included the individuals name.

Seaton, L. (2004).

Timaru Cemetery, South Canterbury.



Resources used in the development of these slides

Betteridge, C. (2005). Conservation Plans: Northern and Southern Cemeteries. Unpublished report for Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust of New Zealand.

Greenaway, K. (1884). Language of Flowers. This is a well known ‘dictionary’ of flower meanings used by Victorians. The 1884 edition (with illustrations) is available as an online illuminated text at

Keister, D. (2004). Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography. Gibbs Smith Publisher. Salt Lake City.

Seaton, L. (2004) Timaru Cemetery: Messages in Stone. A Guide to the meanings of the symbols on headstones. South Canterbury Museum.

Tyler, L. (No Date). The broken lily and the grim reaper’s scythe: The iconography of Victorian and Edwardian Gravestones in the Northern Cemetery. Presentation Notes. Director of the Centre for New Zealand Art, Research & Discovery. University of Auckland.


Special thanks is extended to Fiona Hyland, Heritage Rose Society of Dunedin, for her help and assistance with identification and meanings behind many cemetery symbols in Dunedin’s Northern Cemetery.