Headstone Symbols: Finger Pointing Up

The meaning of the symbols commonly found on cemetery gravestones and markers

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A hand with an index finger pointing up/skyward is a common symbol found on cemetery tombstones and gravemarkers. Photo © Chris Raymond

Depending upon your perspective, a cemetery, church graveyard or memorial park can prove a location to avoid as long as humanly possible or a place of fascination and even enjoyment. For many in the latter camp, visiting the silent stone sentinels and mute metal markers found in a cemetery offers an opportunity to pay homage to the dead, trace their family history, capture interesting photographs, or find moments of solitude and contemplation.

If you've visited a cemetery for any reason at some point, you might have wondered about a design you saw carved on an old tombstone and what it means. This article examines the meaning behind the headstone symbols commonly found in cemeteries, church graveyards and memorial parks and, specifically, what an upturned/pointing finger represents.

The Symbol
Countless tombstones and gravemarkers found in cemeteries feature carvings of the human hand, but this particular symbol shows a hand with the index finger pointed up or skyward (as seen in the photograph above), whether shown from the front (palm side) or the back of the hand.

The Meaning
Historically, the human hand ranks with the eyes/face as one of the most important and expressive elements of the human form. Generally, hands and/or fingers are associated with creativity, power, war, etc., and many death-related superstitions naturally involve the hand(s).

When seen on a cemetery headstone or gravemarker, a hand with the index finger pointed up or skyward typically represents either the hand of God, or a human hand, indicating:

• The path followed by the individual after death, i.e. up to heaven

• A "judgment" that the deceased earned, during his or her lifetime, life everlasting

• A sign indicating that the individual no longer dwells among the living but has risen to heaven

• Confirmation of life after death, i.e., the mortal remains rest below but the soul is elsewhere

As with anything artistic, it is important to remember that the meaning of most tombstone symbols rests in the eye of the beholder. Thus, the meaning or interpretation of any particular cemetery symbol, or why it appears upon any particular gravemarker, generally cannot be definitively determined.

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