The Hidden Language of Graveyards with Robert Stephenson
On Sunday 9th October 2022 at 3:30 pm

Our gravestone is our last message to the world and a permanent memorial to how we wish to be remembered. The inscriptions on headstones range from the prosaic requiescat in pace (rest in peace) to epitaphs, poems, quotations, professions of faith, imprecations, reflections on mortality, warnings to anyone who might disturb the earthly remains and even jokes (comic writer Spike Milligan’s gravestone bears the legend “I told you I was ill”).

The images on gravestones can have more cryptic meanings. Early Christians would depict an anchor instead of a cross on headstones to avoid persecution for their faith. Other common motifs are the urn to symbolise the immortality of the soul, a broken column to represent a life cut short and a skull or skeleton to serve as a memento mori, reminding the visitor of their own mortality. Knowing how to decode this symbolic language can reveal insights into the person interred, the circumstances of their life and their hopes for the afterlife.

In this age where most people who die are cremated the art of tombstone design is becoming something of a lost art. In his illustrated talk, taphophile Robert Stephenson will delve into its history, symbolism and meaning.

Tickets £12 including a 20% donation toward a host of restoration projects at Kensal Green Cemetery.

Robert Stephenson
Robert Stephenson is a qualified City of London Culture and Heritage guide and a trustee at Kensal Green and Brompton cemeteries. He teaches on London and death studies. Robert is also chairman of the National Federation of Cemetery Friends.

Image Credit - A photo of the winged skull made by Dionysus Lazarus taken at the Church of Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio in Arco in Napoli.


The Dissenters' Chapel, Kensal Green Cemetery, London. Ticket includes tour of the catacombs.