Field Guide


OF all the varieties of symbols found in cemeteries, it is animals that have the most powerful connection with human beings.

The dove is the most frequently seen animal symbol in the cemetery. It is portrayed in a number of poses, but most frequently it is seen holding an olive branch, a reference to the dove sent out by Noah to search for land, as explained in Genesis 8:

And he stayed yet other seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark,
And the dove came in to him in the evening, and,
lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah
knew that in the waters were abated from off the earth.

The dove then became a symbol of purity and peace because God had made peace with man. It also became a powerful symbol of the Holy Ghost, as illustrated in John 1:

And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore I am baptizing with water.
And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
And I knew him not, but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.

Taken from Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography written and photographed by Douglas Keister, published by Gibbs Smith, Salt Lake City, 2004.