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Understanding Cemetery Symbols: Doves can mean many things! #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.]

What do Doves symbolize?

DOVES: In general, when you see dove depicted on headstones in historic cemeteries, they represent innocence, peace, and/ or the Holy Spirit. The meaning of a particular dove varies slightly, however, depending on what it is doing:

(c) photo Tui Snider - Dove with an olive branch.
(c) photo Tui Snider – Dove with an olive branch.

DOVE FLYING UPWARDS: Stands for the soul’s ascent to Heaven.

DOVE FLYING DOWNWARDS: When a dove is shown flying downwards, it refers to the Holy Spirit arriving at Christ’s baptism.

SEVEN DOVES: A flurry of seven doves on a tombstone represents the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, wonder and piety.


(c) Tui Snider - Dead dove with broken wing
(c) Tui Snider – Dead dove with broken wing

DOVE WITH OLIVE BRANCH:Once again the dove represents the Holy Spirit. Ancient Greeks believed that an olive branch could dispel evil spirits, and over time that came to symbolize peace.

DOVE HOLDING A GLOBE: If the dove holds the earth in its beak, it’s associated with the 4th degree ranking in the Knights of Columbus fraternal organization.

DOVE WITH BROKEN WING: I find this to be such a heartbreaking cemetery symbol! Usually seen on the grave of a young child, with the dove as a symbol of innocence.

DOVE WITH MAIL IN ITS BEAK: It’s not a common sight, but when you see the engraving of a dove with a letter in its mouth, it refers to the carrier pigeons that some young lovers used to exchange messages back in the Victorian Era.

(c) Tui Snider - Dove flying upwards
(c) Tui Snider – Dove flying upwards

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. I may not remember all of the meanings of dove actions, but the dove with a broken wing will certainly stick with me. That symbol is truly heart-breaking.

    • Yes! The broken-winged dove always gives me a jolt when I come across it. Strolling through historic cemeteries sure brings home the realities of the high infant mortality rates of the past! Thank you for dropping by my blog. I’ll be swinging by yours here soon, too! :)

  2. It’s interesting the symbolism and the stories they imply about the deceased.

    • It really is! Well, I guess it’s obvious I agree, since I wrote a whole book on the topic – lol! Thanks for visiting! :)

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