The carving of mortality images is as old as mankind, with emblems representing a belief that the soul would rise and live on in the afterlife of choice.

 

One of the most prevalent motifs on seventeenth century grave markers was the Death’s Head i.e. a stylised skull with or without wings. The skull was used to represent Death, a reminder that death comes to everyone, as indicated by the words that later accompanied it, Memento Mori, meaning ‘Remember that you must die,’ in Latin. On these early monuments the Death’s Head was usually portrayed either in partial profile or facing front. Later in the eighteenth century, influenced it part by the masonic tradition, the skull was carved in all manner of ways: with or without a bottom jaw, full-face, quarters or half-profile; eye sockets in deep or raised in relief and came in all sizes. In fact, there were many variations of the Death's Head motif. The characteristics and configuration of the image depended entirely on the preferred style of the carver.

 

The Winged Skull, carved with a full face and wings outstretched on either side, may be found on a few seventeenth century stones. Some have speculated that these skulls were intended to symbolize a combination of a physical death and spiritual regeneration.

 

The Death’s Head was often depicted in tandem with crossed bones, usually femurs or just a single bone, imagery today more associated with vagabond pirates!

 

Other decorative motifs accompanying the Death's Head include The Hour-Glass, indicating the passing of time. It is usually portrayed in raised relief, in a vertical or horizontal position. The Deid Bell, a small hand bell which was rung to give notices of funerals and the Sexton’s Tools, an image of a spade and turf-cutter, the later with a unique triangular blade. Often the two tools will be depicted crossed.

 

A realistic and easily identifiable image of a coffin could also be found in the within the mortality symbolism sphere, sometimes depicted as double-spoked, in later times depicted as a single image. The skeleton or cadaver, as it is sometimes called, is another mortality motif and can be depicted either lying down, or on a bed or in a hammock-like object. The accuracy of the anatomical detail was dependant upon the skills of the stonemason.

 

Below are just a few examples of this much maligned form of decoration. Please click on image for larger size.

 

My Tarbat Friend
My Tarbat Friend
Tarbat Pictish Centre, Portmahomack
Skulls and Daffodils
Skulls and Daffodils
St. Regulus Burial Ground, Cromarty
Dunbar/Ardoch Mausoleum
Dunbar/Ardoch Mausoleum
Kirkmichael Burial Ground, Resolis
The Dunbar Skull
The Dunbar Skull
Kirkmichael Burial Ground, Resolis
Jack in Bed
Jack in Bed
Kirkmichael Burial Ground, Resolis
The Cobblers Stone
The Cobblers Stone
East Church, Cromarty
The Anderson Plaque
The Anderson Plaque
East Church, Cromarty
The Skull With No Name
The Skull With No Name
Chapel Yard, Inverness
The Two Lovers
The Two Lovers
East Church, Cromarty
The Mausoleum
The Mausoleum
Kirkmichael Burial Ground, Resolis
Greyfriars
Greyfriars
Greyfriars, Inverness
The Shining Light
The Shining Light
St. Regulus Burial Ground, Cromarty
Skull in the Undergrowth
Skull in the Undergrowth
Chapel Yard, Inverness
Skull at Night
Skull at Night
St. Regulus Burial Ground, Cromarty
Surrounded by Gold
Surrounded by Gold
St. Regulus Burial Ground, Cromarty
The St. Nicholas Cadaver
The St. Nicholas Cadaver
St. Nicholas Kirkyard, Aberdeen
The Toothed Skull
The Toothed Skull
High Church, Inverness
Littered Skull
Littered Skull
St. Regulus Burial Ground, Cromarty
The Lone Skull and Crossbones
The Lone Skull and Crossbones
Chapel Yard, Inverness
A Dapper Gentleman
A Dapper Gentleman
High Church, Inverness
The Slanted Skull
The Slanted Skull
East Church, Cromarty
Old High Church Slab 1
Old High Church Slab 1
High Church Burial Ground, Inverness
Old High Church Slab 2
Old High Church Slab 2
High Church Burial Ground, Inverness
The Chissholme Wall Plaque
The Chissholme Wall Plaque
Chapel Yard, Inverness
St Regulus Slab 1
St Regulus Slab 1
St. Regulus Burial Ground, Cromarty
They're Behind Me Aren't They
They're Behind Me Aren't They
Parish Churchyard, Rosemarkie
The Sands of Time
The Sands of Time
Kirkmichael Burial Ground, Resolis
Chapel Yard, Inverness
Chapel Yard, Inverness
Chapel Yard, Inverness
Chapel Yard, Inverness
Chapel Yard, Inverness
Reclining MM1
Reclining MM1
Chapel Yard, Inverness
Reclining MM2
Reclining MM2
Chapel Yard, Inverness.
Arthur
Arthur
Chapel Yard, Inverness
Edderton MM
Edderton MM
Edderton Burial Ground, Edderton, Ross-shire
site map | cookie policy | privacy policy | accessibility statement