Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Memento Mori: Scottish Gravestones

In response to the popularity of 'Tombstone Tuesday' in genealogy blogs here is an introduction to what can be found here in Scotland.I have never referred to them other than gravestones, is tombstone a creeping Americanism? 
One can't but marvel at the range and skill employed by local masons in their craft.The availability and texture of the local stone has influenced where the best examples are found. Angus and Dumfriesshire sandstone,the Lothians freestone,Aberdeenshire granite and slate from Ballachulish.

Increasing prosperity of 18th and 19th century tradesmen and farmers is reflected in the exuberance of subject matter.A range of symbolism and epitaphs leaves the passer bye in no doubt of the fleetness of life and our own mortality. Four main types of symbolism were used.
  • Death
  • Life
  • Life after death
  • Representing trades
Skulls or 'death heads' from the lifelike to the comical leer above crossed femur bones,reminiscent of a pirate's flag. Hourglasses, either upright to signify a normal lifespan,on their side to show a premature death or winged with the motto Tempus Fugit. Perhaps you have been fortunate to find such a stone connected to your ancestry. They can be a wealth of information if they have not succumbed to the ravages of the elements
or vandalism. Many were used for building purposes broken up for lintels and flagstones;Cromwell used stones from the Greyfriars in Perth to construct a fort.
There are many examples throughout Scotland so on my travels I shall post further illustrations of the Scottish epitaphs and symbolism on Tombstone Tuesday. 

Brown.Hamish ( 2008 ) The Scottish Graveyard Miscellany The Folk Art of Scotland's Graves:Edinburgh,Birlinn Publishing.
Love,Dane (1989)         Scottish Graveyards: London,Robert Hale. 
Willsher,Betty (1978)     Stones-18th Century Scottish Gravestones: Edinburgh, Canongate.
Willsher,Betty (1996)     Scottish Epitaphs :Edinburgh, Canongate.

Scotgraves blog:        http://scotgraves.blogspot.com/
Scotfot:                     http://www.scotfot.com/
Scran :                      http://sites.scran.ac.uk/kestrel3d/knowledge/knowledge.pdf
Wikipedia:                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_gravestones


  1. I have seen a few gravestones with the skull & crossbones in the Graveyard(the old cemetery) in Old Kilpatrick.As a child I fantasised that a pirate was buried there or a witch!

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