Headstones of Cornwall

My latest holiday took me to Cornwall for the first time and we stayed in a lovely lodge near Saltash that I highly recommend.  Click here to view Tamar Lodge.

I’m totally transfixed that centuries later, you can stroll among the dead in old graveyards and they can still have their say. 


I hear you scream in horror!!!!

OK, I don’t mean literally that the dead rise and speak in person and I’ll forgive you for possibly thinking that with Halloween around the corner.

The Dead Do Speak

I’m talking about the symbols on the headstones that, if deciphered can tell you a story about the deceased.  Some symbols are straight forward to work out, but the more symbols on the one headstone, the more difficult it gets.  It’s very fascinating once you believe you have figured out the life story of the deceased, but it’s totally subjective.  If you want to find out more about this or reference an A – Z of headstone symbols, please visit my other website, http://www.headstonesymbols.co.uk

Firstly, I want to express how very important it is that headstones like these are preserved for further generations to enjoy.  In different parts of the country, indeed the world, headstones showcase their own style and most beautiful are the carved Memento Mori headstones in the Scottish city of Edinburgh that showcase the deceased’s wealth and status.  In Cornwall, you will find headstones that are not so elaborate, but the medieval artwork etched into the stone, is so crude, but wonderful to look at.  Below I will take you on a journey of my favourite headstones showing you how the dead do speak.

The Day of Judgement Headstone


Vita Brevis translated is ‘Life is Short’

‘And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire: And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth’  Book of Revelation

The graphical account of the day of judgement can be found in the Book of Revelation. The earth is destroyed by seven angels with trumpets and the dead rise to be judged against their deeds in the book of life. I find it terrifying and always have done since a small child attending a Church of England school.  Headstones like these reminded the observer that it was not only there impending death that they had to prepare for, but also a second death at the end of times when they would be judged against their deeds in the book of life. It also shows that the deceased was very much devoted to religion.  

Cornwall is the first time I’ve seen a full skeleton depicted on a headstone that I’ve found in a graveyard.  The skeleton holds a dart, which is a symbol of death.  One of the angels is holding a scythe or sickle that is commonly associated with the Grim Reaper. It’s a symbol of death because of its use to cut down the harvest (reap). The scythe is also mentioned in the bible, revelation 14.

And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe. – King James Bible


The Day of Judgement Headstone from Cornwall

Common Headstones of Cornwall

Seeing clock dials on headstones is also new to me, yet it’s quite common in the graveyards of Cornwall that I visited. A clock can represent a passage of time and in some cases if it has hands it can show the time of death.  I don’t know if that’s the case of the first headstone featuring a clock below, but it’s a fascinating thought don’t you think?  It also has a crude skull  above, where the hand points to, so I will stick with the meaning ‘a passage of time’, birth through to death. 

Don’t you think it’s important that we are still reminded today that time is fleeting and we need to live for today instead of worrying about things that might not happen? With the year I’ve had, I know that this long forgotten funerary art should make a return.


Clock on a headstone found in Cornwall


Very old headstone showing a skull inside a clock


Another headstone from Cornwall featuring a clock dial

Memento Mori Headstone in Cornwall


Memento Mori on Cornish Headstone

I adore this funny looking skull and crossbones together with the Latin phrase of ‘Memento Mori‘.

Memento Mori – Remember that YOU will die

It was common in the 14th to 18th centuries to feature Memento Mori symbols and/or writings of Memento Mori upon ones final resting place. Back then, death was part of everyday life as mortality rates were higher and the deceased would rest at their home until the funeral. Lack of knowledge of the causes of disease meant anyone could be fatally struck down or suffer ill health at any time and 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‘.

Hour Glass Symbol on a Headstone

The hourglass seen on headstones symbolises that time is passing rapidly and we are one hour closer to our death. If the hourglass depicted on a headstone is on its side, it usually represents that the deceased had their life cut short unexpectedly.

Heart on a Headstone

A heart on a headstone can represent love, the sacred heart or love of God. An inverted heart or one being pierced represents death

Affordable and Unique Gothic Wall Art

I hope you enjoyed my view on headstones from Cornwall.  Please note that you can purchase my photography in specially sourced antique and vintage frames that make a totally unique gift with prices starting at £10 GBP.  All images are signed and can be purchased from my Etsy page.  If you want a specific image, please contact me to discuss.

Spread the love
  • 8

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WordPress Anti-Spam by WP-SpamShield