Field Guide

Olive Tree and Branch

The olive tree is certainly the most referenced tree in the Bible. In the cemetery a depiction of a dove with an olive branch in its beak symbolizes that the soul of the deceased has departed in the peace of God. This is a reference to the peace that God made with man after the great flood, as recounted in Genesis 8:

10 And he waited yet another seven days, and again he sent the dove out from the ark; 11 Then the dove came to him in the evening, and behold, a freshly plucked olive leaf was in her mouth; and Noah knew that the waters had receded from the earth.

The peaceful symbolism of the olive branch was also used by Sienese school painters when, in scenes of the Annuciation, they depicted the archangel Gabriel handing an olive branch to the Virgin Mary. Most paintings of the Annunciation depict Gabriel with a lily, but the lily was the emblem of Florence, the avowed enemy of Siena. In addition to its peaceful symbolism, the olive tree also signifies fruitfulness, purification, strength, and victory. In Islamic tradition the olive is the central tree on the world axis and is also associated with light since its oil was used as a lamp fuel.

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.