An Evolving Tradition
Cemetery headstones, also known as memorial headstones and grave headstones, have changed dramatically in the past few decades. While that is so, the act of marking the burial site of a lost loved one with a heastone, grave marker or monument remains one of the most popular memorial traditions mankind has ever known. This article explores how memorials have changed over the decades, and why this tradition remains so popular in our modern age.
While the tradition of cemetery headstones is about as old as mankind, the style of most of today’s cemetery headstones differs a great deal from the cemetery headstones of days gone by. Today’s cemetery headstones still serve the same overall purpose as cemetery headstones of previous generations — to mark graves and to memorialize the dead. But the look is starkly different. Cemetery headstones of yesteryear were usually large, up-right pieces of sculpted stone that had written information about the people whose graves they marked. Furthermore, memorials of the past may have been made of materials such as slate or marble, which were found to be too soft of a stone to withstand the elements. By contrast, today’s cemetery headstones are smaller, simpler, plaque-like pieces made of bronze, granite, or a combination of the two, and are displayed directly on the ground at the head of graves. Bronze and granite have become the most popular materials for memorials because of their resilience and ease of personalization. The more elaborate “up-right” cemetery headstones are still in use today, but mostly as markers of multiple graves (such as a family’s plot), while the smaller, modern cemetery headstones are used to mark individual graves. A variation of the new style of cemetery headstones (called a companion cemetery headstone) is often used, also, to mark the graves of couples who spent large portions of their lives together.
Although the styles have changed over the years, the tradition of cemetery headstones is as strong as ever. Following centuries of tradition, in cultures all across the globe, most people alive today can expect to be remembered through the ages by cemetery headstones personalized to include their names, dates of birth and death, special designs, and other relevant information. Even people whose bodies have been cremated (a tradition whose popularity is increasing dramatically) are often memorialized with cemetery headstones installed in their family cemetery plots. This is in keeping with the advice of many psychologists who say that, even if a person’s ashes are scattered at sea, having a specific, special place in which to memorialize a loved-one is an important part of any family’s grieving. Cemetery headstones, of course, establish that place.
Today’s cemetery headstones usually come in two varieties: bronze and granite. Bronze cemetery headstones typically include bronze plates with special memorial designs and lettering that names the deceased as well as the dates of birth and death. These plates are then attached to granite bases and then installed in cemeteries as beautiful grave headstones. Granite cemetery headstones, meanwhile, are formed from one of the world’s oldest and strongest natural materials, which has been shaped, polished and chiseled into a cemetery headstone that will certainly last for ages.
Besides their obvious emotional value, cemetery headstones are also valuable to historians who often need to document people’s lives for decades, or even centuries, after death have occurred. The study construction of cemetery headstones assures that people will be remembered for such documentation long after the elements have destroyed paper records or technology has made electronic records obsolete.