Church Monuments Symbolism and Iconography

The illustrations on monuments often give a fascinating insight both into the deceased and the fashions of the time. In this section we aim to give an idea of the meanings behind various symbols taking specific examples to be found in the Norwich churches.

Feature Symbolism Example Link
Angel's Winged Head Resurrection and the metamorphosis of the soul ANgels Head winged  
Bat Wing On the monument to Augustine Curtis is the unusual symbolism of a skull with a batwing in its mouth. Bats have many symbolic meanings in this case it could be a symbol of rebirth after death (death symbolised by the skull) Bat wing Link to St Peter Mancroft
Beehive Although a beehive would normally symbolise industry - in this case it is found on the Nathaniel Roe's monument in St Peter Mancroft. Nathaniel was a goldsmith who associated his trade with golden honey made by bees ! beehive Link to St Peter Mancroft
Cherub - weeping Death from the lovely monument to Elizabeth Copping in st Stepehen Church Cherub weeping  
Cherub - crowning deceased Cherub awarding the crown of life cherub crowning cherub awarding crown of life
Crown The Crown of life - the reward for those who stayed faithful until death crown  
Dove flying out of cage The release of the soul and the promise of regeneration Dove leaving cage john Suckling
Eagle Endurance and strength eagle  
Father Time Shown with his scythe, is symbolic of gathering in those whose time has come. Father Time  Berney Hobart tomb
Fruit Refers to the classical motive of maturitas i.e. decomposition follows ripeness Fruit bowl Berney Hobart tomb
Helmet Helmets are used in coats of arms to symbolise status. In this design it denotes a baronet or knight. helmet Berney Hobart tomb
Lamp The undying flame can symbolise immortality or be the light that leads to the knowledge of God
(William Clarke's monument in St George Tombland)
Lamp Berney Hobart tomb
Laurel Fame or Victory. Often applied to a literary or artistic figure Laurel Berney Hobart tomb
Books Learned Person Books Berney Hobart tomb
Military Equipment A soldier military Berney Hobart tomb
Obelisk Comes from the Egyptian sun worshipping symbol and means everlasting life John Tuthill St.George Colegate obelisk Berney Hobart tomb
Olive Branch Peace, harmony and healing. If shown in a dove's beak it becomes a symbolism of healing Olive branch Berney Hobart tomb
Pomegranate Because it has 613 seeds which correspond with the 613 mitzvot (commandments) Jewish tradition teaches that the pomegranate is a symbol of righteousness - symbolism which was carried into the Christian religious decoration. Alternatively it could represent eternal life because of its seeds which lead to fertility and abundance i.e rebirth pomegranate Berney Hobart tomb
Ram A Ram generally represents Jesus who was sacrificed for mankind as was the Ram in place of Abrahams son Isaac. (From monument to Augustine Curtis in St. Peter Mancroft) Sailing ship Berney Hobart tomb
Sailing Ship Symbolises the human body as carrier of the soul Sailing ship Berney Hobart tomb
Scales Represent weighin the soul on the day of judgement scales Berney Hobart tomb
Shell Normally represents Pilgirmmage- in particular it was the badge of those who had travelled to Santaigo de Compestella.

In this case the shell is on the monument to John Smith who owned 6 ships at Great Yarmouth - and the shell represents his links with the sea
Shell Berney Hobart tomb
Skeleton/bones Death skeleton and bones augustine briggs
Skull Death - when combined with other symbols meaning will change e.g. see bat wing Skull with hand resting on it Francis Wyndhom
Skull winged and crowned immortality skull winged and crowned 2  Berney Hobart tomb
Snake - coiled Eternity snake coiled  

Symbolises the end of life’s work

Imagery spade Berney Hobart Tomb
Torch Immortality    
Torch - upturned Life extinguished    
Urn - burning Immortality urn burning  
Urn - Flaming New Life flaming urn  
Wreath Eternal life Laurel Berney Hobart tomb