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Understanding Cemetery Symbols: Why are benches so common in graveyards? #cemetery #history #GraveHour

Understanding Cemetery Symbols by Tui Snider

[The following is an adapted excerpt from my book, Understanding Cemetery Symbols. I hope you enjoy it! Also, full disclosure: that’s an Amazon affiliate link. If you buy my book after clicking it, I make a few pennies at no additional cost to you.]

Why are benches so common in cemeteries?

This historic cemetery tradition harkens back to ancient Greece: After erecting a table stone to place food and wine on during grave site celebrations, ancient Greeks often installed a type of stone bench called an exedra. Now the family had a place to sit during their gravesite visits.

(c) Tui Snider - cemetery bench
(c) Tui Snider – cemetery bench

What is an exedra?

Exedrae may be straight or curved. These benches are for public use, so you can find them in gymnasiums and public squares, as well as burial grounds. If you’ve ever seen a painting of a Greek philosopher sitting while surrounded by his students, the artist most likely painted him sitting on an exedra.

(c) Tui Snider - cemetery bench
(c) Tui Snider – cemetery bench

Still the most popular form of cemetery seating

Exedra-style benches were fashionable graveyard monuments in the Victorian era through the 1920’s in America, and are often found on wealthier people’s graves. Even when it’s not an exedra-style, you will notice that benches are the most common type of seating found in cemeteries, even today.

(c) Tui Snider - cemetery bench
(c) Tui Snider – cemetery bench

And I know I sound like Captain Obvious here, but it is perfectly fine to sit down on cemetery benches. I’m adding that bit because I sometime see people hesitate to do so. They’re worried that it is somehow disrespectful; it’s not! Just make sure that the bench is sturdy and safe before you sit down.

(c) Tui Snider - Isn't this turtle bench adorable?
(c) Tui Snider – Isn’t this turtle bench adorable?

Want to learn more about cemetery symbols?

BLOG POSTS: Click here to read a whole bunch more blog posts about historic graveyards and cemetery symbols. I’m constantly adding new content here!

READ MY BOOK: Check out my book, Understanding Cemetery Symbols. It’s available on Amazon in paperback and ebook form.

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Tui Snider
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  1. Funny that I have never wanted to sit on one of those elaborate benches like you’ve posted, but I have no problem with the basic black marble ones in the Memorial Gardens where my Dad is buried! I don’t know why those seem OK to me….

    • Hi, Lisa! Maybe it’s because they seem newer and more sturdy? And the others seem more ornamental? Thanks so much for dropping by! :)

    • Hi Doree! Yeah, I’m always surprised how even the most simple things connected with cemeteries have a deeper story behind them! Thank you for visiting! :)

  2. I’ve always avoided sitting on benches in graveyards out of the fear of being disrespectful. It’s good to hear that it’s actually okay to sit on them. Next time I will use one!

    • You are not alone! So many people feel that way about cemetery benches nowadays. Now, however, you know that when you sit on a cemetery bench you’re participating in an age-old custom. Thanks for dropping by! :)

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