Before cemeteries and churchyards existed, gravestones were used to mark burial plots near family homes. These gravestones were usually made from piles of rock or wood and were marked with only the deceased’s name, age and year of death. In around 1650, churches started allowing gravestones to be erected on their grounds. Originally only the middle and upper classes used them; however, after Protestant theology was established, it became common practice. Up until 1900 most gravestones were constructed from large pieces of square slate or sandstone. After this period public cemeteries emerged and people started using gravestones as a way to memorialize the dead. This resulted in more intricate designs and meaningful inscriptions. Engraving an epitaph about the deceased and adding their birth date soon became the standard and is a practice that is still conducted today. During the Victorian area (1837-1901) practices revolving around death were exemplified, which birthed lavish gravestone designs which included artwork, sculptures and family symbols.
The Term “Gravestone”
The term “gravestone” was coined by members of the Jewish faith who would honour the dead by placing stones on burial sites. This tradition started when a man broke Sabbath and felt so guilty that he asked people to “stone” his grave after his death.