Life Comes Full Circle

Memento Mori

To begin with, I absolutely adore the art of Memento Mori symbols that we see on century old headstones. Furthermore, it is my opinion is that this is an art form that is lost to us today. I would be more than happy to feature a skull and crossbones on my headstone, alas, it’s very unlikely that I will receive a burial.

In my gallery below, you will see some of the common mortality symbols and following this, I’ve included a symbols and meanings table.

Memento Mori – Remember that YOU will die

  • Memento Mori headstone
  • Memento Mori Headstone
  • Grave people
  • Memento Mori Headstone
  • Mortality Symbols
  • Skull and clockface
  • Cemetery Death Head with Hourglass
  • Mortality Symbols
  • Winged Skull on Headstone
  • Memento Mori Headstone
  • Skull and gravedigger tools
  • Skeleton of a Doctor
  • Wheat with a skull and crossbones
  • Winged Skull
  • Crude Memento Mori Skull
  • Drogheda Cadavers
  • Memento Mori Photography
  • Funny Skull
  • Skull and crossbones Cornwall
  • Memento Mori heart and skull
  • Clock face Memento Mori
  • Vita Brevis Angel Memento Mori
  • Photograph of Skull with Wings on Coffin

Centuries ago with the various plagues, death was a part of everyday life with mortality rates being a lot higher than these days. Also, it was common place for the body to rest at home until the day of burial. Along with this, religious beliefs were also strong. Therefore, Memento Mori served as a reminder to all that death could arrive within the hour, and that all must prepare for a ‘good death‘.

Moreover, its message reminds us that death is something that we cannot avoid. Therefore, we should remember to live our lives, Memento Vivere, as death may arrive within the next hour or day. Of course, this message was brought home to us during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Additionally, I remember someone telling me that a skull and crossbones either represents a pirate, if near to the coast, or someone who died of the plague. I believed this for years, but this isn’t particularly true! Moreover, it is a common Memento Mori symbol with the skull and femurs representing death. This is also known as a death head. To view my death head gallery, please click the link however, if you would like further information on the changing fashion of death heads, click here.

A to C Mortality Symbols

  • Acanthus leaf is a common motif featuring on some headstones. It symbolises the immortality of the soul but can also indicate suffering
  • Arrow is a general symbol of death and not the cause of death. See Dart below for more information
  • Bells were traditionally rung in churches for the dead. The Death Knell was rung to signify when someone is no longer with us, and hand bells used in funeral processions
  • Book on a headstone usually symbolises the Book of Life, but can mean the Bible, or learning, or faith
  • Bones on a headstone remind us of what will become us
  • Cadaver Stones are Memento Mori symbols to remind us of what we will become, so live life for today
  • Candles mark our allotted time on earth
  • Circles represent eternity. See also snake swallowing tail below.
  • Clocks or a clock dial is a mortality symbol meaning the passage of time
  • Coffin is a mortality symbol, often seen with the Sexton’s tools, see below
  • A crown on a headstone can represent triumph or victory over death, but in order to decipher the true meaning, you need to look at the other symbols shown on the headstone.
  • Cups, chalices, grails, goblets and cauldrons have been associated with life and death since ancient times

D to R of Memento Mori continues

  • The Danse Macabre translates into English as the Dance of Death. It is a medieval allegory that reminds folk about Memento Mori.
  • Dart is a symbol of death and is sometimes seen carried by skeletons or piercing the deceased’s flesh
  • Dial as in a clock dial, is a mortality symbol meaning the passage of time
  • Disce Mori Latin for ‘Learn that you will die
  • Drapery seen on headstones usually depicts the veil between life and death and the crossing of that plane. To others it can symbolise God’s protection until resurrection
  • Egg and Dart is sometimes used in borders. It looks like eggs in cups separated by a vertical line. It symbolises life and death
  • Flames are concerned with the life spirit. Extinguished candles and torches indicate death
  • Fugit Hora is Latin for ‘Hours are Fleeting‘ or ‘Time Flies’. This usually accompanies an hourglass on a headstone
  • Grim Reaper seen on a gravestone is the personification of Death. It is usually confused with the far older myth of Father Time. Father Time is a figure holding a scythe and/or an hourglass, waiting patiently for a life to end
  • A heart represents love, the sacred heart or love of God. An inverted heart or one being pierced is representing death
  • Hourglass representing time draining away, or winged ‘time flies
  • Judgement Day is usually symbolised by trumpeting angels often holding the book of life or palm branches
  • Memento Mori is Latin for ‘Remember Death‘. Usually we see a skull or a skeleton accompanying the phrase. It is there to remind us that we will eventually die
  • Ouroboros see Snake swallowing tail below
  • Ram is connected to its use as a sacrificial animal in Roman times so can represent Christ’s sacrifice

S of Memento Mori Symbols

  • Scythe is commonly a sexton’s tool. Additionally, it can be a symbol of Death, Father Time, or a farmer
  • Set Square and compasses are well known Masonic symbols, but could also indicate the tools of a stonemason
  • Serpent see snake below
  • Sexton’s tools usually feature a spade, pick, turf cutter and mattock and are the tools of a grave digger or person looking after a church
  • Skeletons are a reminder of death and its permanence
  • Skull and Crossbones are a reminder of death and its permanence
  • Snake represents life and death
  • Snake swallowing tail or an ouroboros is an ancient symbol for eternity and the cycle of life and death

T to Z of Memento Mori Symbols

  • Tempus Erat is the Latin phrase meaning ‘Time Has Run Out‘ or ‘Time Is Gone
  • Tools are either representing a sexton and can also represent the occupation of the person buried below
  • Torches seen on a headstones are representing life. Burning it represents eternal life, inverted or extinguished symbolises death. In addition, if entwined by a snake, this indicates health
  • Urn represents death and the return of the body to dust. Coverings to urns can give additional information
  • Wheat usually indicates a long life
  • Winged skull is representing the ascension into Heaven