Field Guide

The Seven Virtues

The Most Common gatherings of sculpted human forms in the cemetery are groupings of the Virtues. There are seven Virtues, usually divided into two groups. There are three theological virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity; and four cardinal, or moral virtues: Temperance, Prudence, Fortitude, and Justice. Sometimes Prudence is put into a separate category as an intellectual virtue. Usually four of the Virtues are seen together, and almost always, three of the four are Faith, Hope and Charity. The other four seem to be always vying for the fourth spot.

Faith is depicted as a women with a cross or sometimes with a chalice or candle. She can be seen at a baptismal font or holding an oil-burning lamp. In art her symbols are the color blue, the emerald, and a child. Sometimes St. Peter is at her feet.

In art, Hope is often seen with wings. In funerary art, she seldom has wings, which probably upset the balance of groupings of Virtues. But she is almost always seen with an anchor, an ancient symbol of hope. Artistic depictions of her may show her with a ship on her head, an allusion to a hopeful voyage to the next realm, or with a basket of flowers.

In art, Charity is almost always portrayed nursing an infant. But in the properly chaste Victorian era, cemetery sculptures of Charity show her in the process of revealing one breast. More or less cleavage is revealed depending on the taste of the sculptor or client. She may also be depicted with a flame, torch, or candle, or with food for the hungry or clothes for the needy.

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.