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Category: Symbols

146. wreaths

Circular or spherical forms represent something without a beginning or end… a natural process which unites all of us. Flowers, emblematic of beauty with a short life span, reminds us of the beauty a family member or friend shared while alive. Whether real or incoporated into sculpture, wreaths can be found scattered throughout Recoleta Cemetery:

S.A.D.A.I.C. wreath, Recoleta Cemetery

Wreath, Recoleta Cemetery

Wreath, Recoleta Cemetery

There are even two on the main entrance gate:

Wreath, Recoleta Cemetery

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139. winged spheres

winged sphere, Recoleta Cemetery

Rarely found in Recoleta Cemetery, winged spheres seem to be a composite symbol taken from the ouroboros & angelic images such as the winged hourglass.

But evidently a century ago, the idea was important enough to include it as one of the 11 symbols on the entrance gate:

winged sphere, Recoleta Cemetery

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129. draped urns

Urns are typically associated with cremation. But as a Catholic cemetery for most of its history, cremation was prohibited or discouraged by church officials. During the last 50 years, rules have been relaxed in part due to high expenses incurred from traditional burial services. Cremation has become more common, but traditional Catholics would still frown at the idea.

Remember that vaults in Recoleta Cemetery are meant to be used by families over successive generations. As the earthly remains of past generations decay over time, they can be transferred to smaller containers to make room for current family members. Although it may seem a bit gruesome, there’s no need to keep an entire casket when there are only ashes inside. Just as many caskets are traditionally draped with a cloth or shroud, so are urns.

As a decorative motif, draped urns can be found in special niches:

Urns, Recoleta Cemetery

Or decorating the corners of family vaults:

Urns, Recoleta Cemetery

Urns, Recoleta Cemetery

Urns may be accompanied by an image of a woman in mourning:

Urns, Recoleta Cemetery

Urns, Recoleta Cemetery

They are even prominently displayed at the service entrance & on the main gate:

Urns, Recoleta Cemetery

Urns, entrance gate, Recoleta Cemetery

And as Lisandro mentioned in the comments below: “Often but not always, Christian communities during Lent use a cross with a cloth draped over its arms. This cloth is associated with the shroud of Christ left in the tomb after resurrection, & for that reason it is considered a sign of life & hope.”

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094. funny how time flies

An hourglass represents the notion of time passing. The sand is trapped & conveys the idea of time being limited or finite. Once the sands run out, no one is around to flip the hourglass over again.

Angel wings are common Christian symbols of heaven & could signify two possible things when coupled with an hourglass: demonstrating your fate after the sands of time run out, or reinforcing the fact that time is fleeting. It provides a subtle reminder to make the most of every moment.

Along with the skull & crossbones, the winged hourglass is the most ubiquitous symbol in Recoleta Cemetery. One even appears on the grand entrance gate:

Winged hourglass, Recoleta Cemetery

Besides acting as the logo of this blog, the symbol appears in a variety of forms… carved directly into the mausoleum itself:

Winged hourglass, Recoleta Cemetery

…incorporated into wrought-iron doors:

Winged hourglass, Recoleta Cemetery

Winged hourglass, Recoleta Cemetery

…as a separate sculpture:

Winged hourglass, Recoleta Cemetery

…or, as in this personal favorite, etched into glass:

Winged hourglass, Recoleta Cemetery

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081. anchors

An angel with an anchor is one of the oldest existing Christian symbols. Used primarily until the year 400 A.D., the image is taken directly from the Book of Hebrews 6:19-20… hope is “an anchor of the soul, sure & firm.” Just as an anchor maintains a ship steady, so does the Christian faith & early Christian cemeteries often used the symbol on tombs.

No one knows exactly why the anchor was replaced by other symbols in later years, but a revival began in the 1600s especially in cemeteries. Although not abundant in Recoleta Cemetery, a few angels with anchors can be found on the tops of domes or by vault entrances:

Anchor, Recoleta Cemetery

Anchor, Recoleta Cemetery

Anchor, Recoleta Cemetery

Anchor, Recoleta Cemetery

Anchor, Recoleta Cemetery

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073. women in mourning

One of the most common sculptures in Recoleta Cemetery is a woman, usually cloaked or shrouded, in mourning. Since Catholicism stresses the role of Mary as mother & wife, a grieving woman has powerful symbolism here. Below are examples which range from tender to downright spooky.

Mourning woman, Recoleta Cemetery

Mourning woman, Recoleta Cemetery

Mourning woman, Recoleta Cemetery

Mourning woman, Recoleta Cemetery

Mourning woman, Recoleta Cemetery

Mourning woman, Recoleta Cemetery

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