Tablet Tombstone Shapes of the 18th and 19th Centuries

You can almost identify the general age of a cemetery by the types and styles of the grave markers found on its grounds. On a stroll through any old cemetery you might see many variations of the three-lobed style of tombstone that was widely used during the 18th century and early 19th century. The shape of a tripartite marker mimics the outline of the human body. You can see which parts of the stone represent the head, shoulders, and neck. The arches symbolize a path that lead to Heaven.
Headstones and footstones also resembled a bed, which is a symbol of eternal sleep. To the right is a footstone that is shaped identical to the headstone, only smaller. (Unless otherwise captioned, these photos are from Raleigh’s City Cemetery.)

During the 18th century, the Baroque style dominated grave markers. Tympanums and caps, or shoulders, were curved or pointed and elaborate designs were often found carved into the tympanum, like winged skulls (not pictured).
Baroque-influenced markers in Old City Cemetery, Lynchburg, VA
When the neoclassical revival began in the arts movement sometime in the 19th century, trends in grave markers followed. Tablet markers were now more rectangular or had pointed arches or segmental (round) tops. Of course there were variations on the basic style, such as the addition of caps to a plain pointed arch.


pointed arch with caps footstone


curtain-style arch

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