A collection of hands

One of my favorite cemetery symbols are hands. They can represent so many things from only how they are positioned. I also find them beautifully detailed, and they have a lot to say. Hands are a very common symbol in funerary art and can be found in almost any cemetery.

I have photographed many over the years, ranging from very simple to very detailed, and wanted to share some of them with you today.

A hand pointing upward often represents going up to heaven. You may also find a hand pointing down, which can look a little odd, but it does not mean what you may have first thought. A hand pointing down usually represents a sudden or unexpected death. Clasped hands or praying hands often represent devotion but can also be seen as a plea for eternal life.

Handshakes are a very common variation and also can have a few different meanings. When the handshake depicts limp fingers held by a firm handshake, this often represents the deceased being welcomed to heaven by loved ones or maybe even God. When one finger is extended, it is a masonic handshake, meaning the deceased was a member of the Freemasons. You may also find a double masonic handshake, where one finger is extended on each of the hands. This is meant to resemble the square & compass, the emblem of the Freemasons. You should also look closely at the wrists of the hands, this can also give more clues. If both hands look masculine, this could represent fraternal brotherhood. If one of the cuffs is more feminine and one more masculine, this is most likely a marital handshake, to indicate the deceased was married.

When you find a hand holding a book, that book is often meant to be the bible. Sometimes it is more obvious, as it may have “holy bible” inscribed on it.


Snider, Tui. Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A Field Guide for Historic Graveyards. 1st ed., Castle Azle Press, 2017. 

Keister, Douglas. Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography. 1st ed., Gibbs Smith, 2004. 

The road so far

I recently started reading the book 199 cemeteries to see before you die by Loren Rhoads.

It’s a beautiful book, that can be used as a travelogue, that lists must-see cemeteries all over the world. It highlights the history that makes each of them unique. The descriptions are accompanied by beautiful photos as well. I get wanderlust just looking at them! 

It got me thinking about what my tally actually is for visited cemeteries. When I was younger, in the early days of my cemetery traveling, I did not document my cemetery photos that well, and have actually lost a large amount of those photos. They would have been taken with film cameras and an old digital point-and-shoot camera. I may still have the negatives somewhere. 

I remember getting lost in the large cemetery in Guelph, Ontario, but don’t have the photos to prove it. I also remember chatting with the caretaker at the old cemetery in Amos, Quebec, and how excited he was to show me some of the more interesting stones there. I don’t have the photos from that trip either. That is one I really regret, as my Mother is from Amos. In that cemetery, it was amusing to see her turn around in circles, amazed at all the family that was buried there. I really wish to go back to visit there again someday. 

So based on my folders of properly labeled and dated photos, here is the breakdown of how many cemeteries I have visited, so far:

  • Sudbury – 19
  • Ontario – 56
  • Other Provinces:
    • Quebec – 6 
    • Saskatchewan – 2
  • United States:
    • New York City – 2
  • Total – 85 cemeteries

My record for the number of cemeteries visited in one day is 13. Maybe one day that record will be broken, but it has been standing since 2019.

Thanks to 199 cemeteries to see before you die, I have added a large number of cemeteries to my bucket list. Due to the pandemic though, those won’t be added to my tally anytime soon. For now, I will focus on continuing to visit cemeteries close to me. Maybe by the end of the summer, I will have hit 100?

Do you have a running tally of visited cemeteries? What is your number? 

Chute de Philippe Cemetery, Quebec ©2014

Introductions

Hello, My name is Chantal and I am a taphophile.

I have always had a deep love of cemeteries and graveyards. It may sound a bit morbid, but I have always found beauty and peace in a cemetery. The combination of nature, art and history is what I find really appealing. A cemetery is a great place to go for a quiet walk, to learn about the history of a place, or to learn about your ancestors. Over the years I have visited many cemeteries and love to take pictures of what I see. I like to focus on details of headstones, iconography, interesting epitaphs and mementos left behind by loved ones.

After realizing I had folders upon folders of photos I wanted to do something with them, not just keep them to myself. So I decided a website would be a great place to showcase them. I’m still working out the details on how I want to organize them, but I’m sure that will evolve over time.

I choose WordPress because it looked like a great way to showcase my portfolio but also include a blog option. I am in no way an avid blogger, but I do get the urge to write sometimes. So please do not expect a perfectly kept up-to-date blog! I’m hoping to write about my favourite cemeteries, road trips, newly explored cemeteries, cemeteries in the news and other cemetery related things.

I will also be slowly adding photos as I go!

If you are interested, I can also be found other places around the web; Facebook, Instagram and ViewBug.

Thanks for visiting!

Woodlawn Cemetery – Kicthener, ON ©2019