What do hands mean in cemeteries?
NICOLA CARPENTER describes the different meanings behind hands on cemetery monuments
Cemeteries are so much more than silent angels and gothic architecture. Hidden among the stones and carved columns are coded messages left for the living. If you have visited or walked through an old cemetery or churchyard during a point in your life, the likelihood is that you may have happened across some strange and intriguing symbols etched into the cold stone. Perhaps the most common yet mystifying symbol of all is that of the humble hand.
From the early 1800s up until the mid 1900s hands were seen as an important symbol of life and carved into the face of gravestones they give clues as to the departed’s relationships with those left behind and with God. Cemetery hands can usually be found in four main depictions; pointing clasping, praying and blessing.
A hand with the index finger extended upwards symbolises the hope of heaven and the rewards contained within, while a hand pointing downwards does not show the way to that ’other place’, but represents the hand of God reaching down for the deceased’s soul and invites the viewer to consider the fate of the person beneath the stone.