What Do The Symbols On Urns Mean? Part One

24 May 2018 | By Kirsty Judge c/o Urns UK

Topics: What Do The Symbols On Urns Mean?


What do the symbols on urns mean? Part I

 

When you’re trying to find a special home for your loved one’s ashes, one thing that can guide you is the art shown on the urns. Many of the beautiful images and engravings on urns are more than just decorations, with each one holding its own unique meaning. Finding an urn symbol that speaks to you can bring you comfort in the days ahead.

 

If you would like some help in deciphering the symbolic meanings of urns, we’re here to help. In this guide – part one of our urn symbolism series – we’ll cover three types of urn you might like: butterfly, angel, and lily urns.

 

 

 

 

 

Butterflies

 

For many cultures across the world, the butterfly has been used as symbol of the human soul and immortality.

 

For example, in ancient Greece, the word “psyche” was used to refer to both the butterfly and the soul. With their fleeting beauty, it’s perhaps no wonder that in many European cultures white butterflies were seen as the souls of children. In Mesoamerican culture, however, butterflies were thought to be the souls of dead warriors, charged with helping the sun move through the heavens.

In Japanese mythology, the butterfly could be the soul of someone living or someone who had passed. If a butterfly lingered on the back of a bamboo screen, it was seen as a sure sign that the person you loved most would be present shortly. A Japanese myth tells of a young man who found that the family garden was visited by two butterflies, which (he realised) are the souls of his parents, devoted both to their garden and to each other. 

 

In Christian art, the butterfly’s transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly is often used as a metaphor for life, death, and the resurrection – not just of Jesus, but for all mankind. As such, the butterfly itself is a promise of the soul’s immortality: that death is not final, merely a pause before a new and better life begins.

 

Yet, for many of us, the butterfly is simply a welcome sign of summer on its way, the bright wings and lazily swooping flight reminding us of the ease and happiness of the holiday months. This makes a butterfly urn a sweet tribute for a loved one who brought joy with them wherever they went.

 

Butterfly urns to treasure forever

If you would like a butterfly urn, our Burford Pearl Urn is delicately engraved with a butterfly pattern on a pearlescent background. For a cremation keepsake, the Kensington Butterfly Ashes Pendant is a pretty-yet-subtle way to keep a lock of hair or small amount of ashes close to your heart. Our royal purple Eskdale urn boasts butterflies in an almost luminous white.

 

Angels

 

 

 

The word “angel” can be traced back to the Greek “ángelos”, which means messenger: in most religions that include angels, their role is often to pass messages with guidance and often comfort from God to mankind (think: “Fear not…”). On headstones, urns, and other memorial art, they are often there to act as symbolic guardians, protecting the soul of the departed and escorting them to heaven.

 

Different types of angels have different meanings. Cherubim are often chosen to watch over the graves of babies and children, depicted much like winged children themselves. A mourning angel, like the famous Angel of Grief carved by sculptor, art critic and poet William W. Story, conveys the deep sorrow felt by those left behind.

 

In Christian art, an angel carrying a horn is likely to represent Gabriel, with the horn itself symbolising the Resurrection. An angel with a sword or shield is likely to be Michael, who in Catholic thought is the angel who guides departed souls to heaven. Angels gesturing upwards are often thought to be pointing the way, while those in prayer are praying for the soul of the person who has passed.

 

Angel urns to watch over your loved one

For many of us, there can be something very comforting about having an angel watch over a loved one. If you would like an angel cremation urn, our Arundel Serene Angel Urn is a restful presence in any home. The more dramatic Beaminster Resting Angel Urn can be kept outdoors, making it a good choice for urn niches in cemeteries. The My Guardian Angel Ashes Casket, with its angel in the clouds, is a colourful, uplifting option.

 

Lilies

When you imagine a bouquet of funeral flowers, chances are, you’re thinking of white lilies. In Christian art, as well as the Victorian language of flowers, this often fragrant and always beautiful flower symbolises purity above all things. In the context of a bereavement, the purity of the lily can mean casting off earthly concerns and turning to the divine and spiritual.

 

As with angels, different types of lily can have additional meanings. Lily of the valley, for example, was used in Victorian bouquets to communicate “the return of happiness”. In Catholic thought, the white Madonna lily is a symbol not only of purity but also the Virgin Mary.

 

The calla lily, the name of which means “beauty” in Greek, is said to come from the goddess Hera, protector of women, family and marriage. In the myth, Zeus (Hera’s husband) tries to nurse his son Hercules from Hera during her sleep. Startled awake, Hera pushed Hercules away, scattering the milk. Where the droplets landed on earth, calla lilies grew. In Roman myth, Venus was so jealous of the calla lily’s beauty that she gave the plant its yellow pistil.

 

The peace lily, often given as a gift after a bereavement, symbolises just that: peace and tranquillity. It is also known as a “white flag plant” due to its simple white flowers. Sprouting out of its dark, glossy foliage, these delicate blooms can look like small flags of surrender. Another reason for the name may be the fact that a peace lily literally clears the air, helping to remove pollutants like carbon monoxide and formaldehyde.

 

Lily urns to bring peace and purity

We all want purity, beauty and peace for our loved ones, making any lily urn a beautiful home for ashes. Here at Urns UK, we have a range of beautiful options, from our lovely marble Arundel Urn with its elegant pewter Madonna lilies to our Eskdale Lily Blue and Hampstead Pearl Urns with dainty calla and peace lilies. If you would like a bio-degradable urn for a natural burial, the Pink Bio Lily Cremation Urn is a thoughtful and meaningful choice.

 

Would you like to find out more about symbolism and urns? Keep your eyes peeled for part two of this article, where we’ll be talking about doves and the tree of life.

 

 

About the author

Kirsty Judge is a writer and editor at Beyond, where she creates guides for bereaved families on everything from what happens at a cremation to comparing local funeral directors. You can read more of her work at https://beyond.life.

 

Sources:

 

  • Ferguson, George. Signs & Symbols in Christian Art. Oxford University Press, 1954.
  • Werness, Hope B. Continuum Encyclopaedia of Animal Symbolism in World Art. A&C Black, 2006.
  • Markman, Peter T. & Markman, Roberta H. Masks of the Spirit: Image and Metaphor in Mesoamerica. University of California Press, 1989.
  • Parente, Pascale. The Angels: In Catholic Teaching and Tradition. TAN Books, 1994.
  • Keister, Douglas. Stories in Stone. Gibbs Smith, 2004.
  • Seaton, Beverly. The Language of Flowers: A History. University of Virginia Press, 2012.
  • Binney, Ruth. Nature's Ways: Lore, Legend, Fact and Fiction. David & Charles, 2006
  • Murphy, Donna Marie & Williams Duea, Angela. The Complete Guide to Growing Windowsill Plants. Atlantic Publishing Company, 2011.
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