Firstly, Happy New Year to my readers and happy symbol spotting!! This month I have two symbols for you to read about.
I first saw this symbol during a visit to Beckenham Cemetery. It’s a less well-known symbol and stands for victory or truimph over death. It has, from earliest times, been a symbol of leadership, distinction and royalty. A variety of saints also wore crowns to indicate that they were either a martyr or of royal blood. Also, according to Julian Litten, it is ‘The Crown of Life’ which is a reward for those who stayed faithful until death. There are 3 biblical quotes which illustrate this:
James 1:12 New International Version (NIV)
‘Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.’ https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James%201:12
and also Revelation 2 10 and Corinthians 24:27
Interestingly enough, J C Cooper says that it is also ‘an architectural emblem of the celestial world and form the point of exit from this world and entry into the divine.’ So the crown has several interesting connotations.
In the Jewish faith it’s known as ‘The Crown of Good Name’ which alludes to the deceased as being of ‘exceptionally noble character.’ However, it can also be a representation of the head of the family or of a household.
This eye-catching example comes from Beckenham Cemetery.
This example comes from Brompton where it is at the top of a very ornate and beautiful memorial. This is a radiate crown and, according to J C Cooper, it can represent ‘ the energy and power contained in the head which was regarded as the seat of life-soul, …an attribute of sun gods,….of supernatural people and the points of the crown symbolise the rays of the sun…’ or it may just be an attractive decorative device.
Crown of thorns:
This is a variant on the crown as it is a representation of suffering, passion and martyrdom. It’s based on the ‘crown plaited by the soldiers and imposed upon Jesus during his trial before Pontius Pilate’ according to Julian Litten. J C Cooper asserts that this was a ’parody of the Roman Emperor’s crown of roses’. The soldiers then mocked Jesus by kneeling in front of him and hailing him as ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ A potent emblem of royalty and power had been turned into one of pain and degradation. But the crown of thorns is a prelude to Jesus being given a far worthier crown in Heaven. This is confirmed in Hebrews 2:9: “
But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone”
In a famous painting of the executed King Charles 1, the Eikon Basilike, he has abandoned his earthly crown, the symbol of majesty, for the crown of thorns that he is holding in his hand as a representation of his suffering.
These are both deeply religious symbols and are examples of both the deceased’s faith and also their belief in an everlasting life beyond the grave.
©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell
http://www.lsew.org.uk/funerary-symbolism/ (Julian Litten)
Stories in Stone; A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography, Douglas Keister, Gibbs M Smith, 2008
An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols, J C Cooper, Thames & Hudson, 1978