I came across this wonderful headstone in the graveyard of Bakewell Parish Church in the heart of the beautiful Peak District in Derbyshire and it is a clear example of a headstone with a meaning. It has a story to tell about the deceased and their beliefs and way of life. Before reading any further, I would like to point out that I am not an expert on free masonry and I have simply researched various elements depicted on the headstone to come to my conclusion. I have included sources of reference and I don’t claim to have got this correct either. It is simply my interpretation, but please feel free to comment below.
Masonic Symbol on Headstone
Firstly, this headstone has the ‘all seeing eye of God‘ at the very top, which is a commonly used Masonic symbol on a headstone therefore denoting that the deceased is a free mason, but what about the snakes or serpents appearing on the headstone with hands pointing to a wavy sword?
Snakes or Serpents Headstone Meaning
The snake or serpent as a symbolic symbol on a headstone is fascinating to try and decipher. You have to think about the characteristics of a snake, how they coil their bodies and spring into attack with a venomous bite or squeeze the living life out of its victim. Snakes regularly shed their skin, bringing a new lease of life and lots of different cultures use these characteristics to tell informed stories to teach. One example is the bible that features the snake as a symbol of temptation and evil in the story of Adam and Eve with the snake being the servant of Satan. Another example is the Egyptians ancient belief that the world was formed when a cosmic egg was inseminated by a God who took the form of a snake coming from the water. The Chinese mythology sees the world being guarded by two snakes that are intertwined and symbolise Ying and Yang (power and wisdom of the creator) and if you study mythology from different cultures, you will see that the snake has a a dual purpose. It can represent good by creation of the world and life, but can also bring death and destruction.
Pillars on Headstone Meaning
The snakes sit upon a pillar on either side of the headstone.
The headstone pillars represent the Temple of Solomon, the first holy temple mentioned in the Hebrew bible which is the base for the Old Testament. Masonic rituals often refer to King Solomon and the building of his temple and masonic lodges where meetings take place are called ‘temples’ in reference to this.
Within the Kabbalah, these two pillars at the entrance of the temple are called Boaz and Jachin and represent the active and passive elements of the world of Atziluth. Boaz represents ‘in him/it [is] strength’ stood on the left while Jachin ‘He/it will establish’ stood on the right. (Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boaz_and_Jachin)
Wavy Sword (Tyler’s Sword) Headstone Meaning
On the headstone, you can see hands adjoined to each tail of the snake that points to the wavy sword, therefore highlighting this aspect of the deceased and lets not forget that swords also have a dual purpose. You can live by the sword, justice, honour, power etc.. but you can also die by the sword.
Could the deceased be a Tyler who would protect the Masonic Lodge from unauthorised access and ensure that candidates for ceremonies are properly prepared? (Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyler_(Masonic))
The Tyler’s sword should traditionally be one with a “wavy” blade, to symbolize the flaming sword that was placed at the east of the garden of Eden, which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life (Genesis 3:24). It should also never be sheathed, as it is the Tyler’s duty to keep off, at all times, “Cowan’s and eavesdroppers.” (Reference: http://www.glbet-el.org/masonictexte/Symbolism%20of%20the%20Sword.pdf
Headstone Meaning – A Freemason Tyler’s Grave
Like I said, this is my interpretation and I might not be correct, but the information I have gathered here maybe beneficial to those of you who are interested in researching more.
I believe the deceased to be a Freemason Tyler who was an outer guard of a Masonic Lodge. Such duties of a Tyler can include the following: –
- Examining the Masonic credentials of anyone wishing to enter the lodge
- Keeping unqualified persons out
This position is usually given to a deserving Mason who has fallen on hard times or to a senior lodge member who can help and advise those kept waiting outside.