Friday, October 5, 2012

Tree Shaped Tombstones-Birds and more Birds

You find a fair number of doves hanging around tree shaped tombstones.  It is a traditional Christian symbol, and it seems like a natural pairing...birds do tend to sit on tree branches.  The doves you encounter fall into two main categories.

Dead doves.  (or to introduce an inappropriate Pythonism, resting doves).

It almost looks like this dove has an olive branch in its mouth, but it is just a bit of well placed clover.

This one is a bit more stylized.  Or perhaps the stone carver was less talented.

Interesting how these depictions of dead doves always have a wing up in the air.  Real dead birds not so much.  Artistically I rather like this one.  Nice amounts of that yellowish lichen that so often coats tree shaped tombstones.  And notice how the sculptor has added a little extension between the wing and the upright part of the tree.  Probably a good idea....after you have seen a few of these you start to see damaged examples, a reminder that even permanent markers are not really eternal.

Head broken off.  Original live/dead status unknown.

Less commonly found are Live Doves.  They are rather more fun.

If you were out for a casual stroll, this bird might fool you.  A tribute to a skilled stone worker.  Interestingly, the live doves I have encountered usually sit on the left hand branch as you view the tombstone from the inscribed side.  Dead ones are at the base of the tree or on the right hand branch.  I am not sure why, and there are exceptions, such as:

This very lively looking bird is flying straight down, and really does have an olive branch in its mouth.  Does it recall the dove returning to Noah with signs of renewed life?  Or does it represent the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove at the Baptism of Jesus?

A weathered "rustic cross" with two live birds.

And here is a rare bird indeed.  A non dove!

Peeking out of the top of a "tree stump" style marker we find an owl.  Now, owls appear in mythology and symbolism in many forms.  But the most common is as an exemplar of wisdom.  They in fact are closely linked with Athena the goddess of wisdom.  But think about it.  Death is the great leveler.  It comes for the wise and the foolish, each in their own time.  Well, maybe a little sooner for the foolish.  But looking at the inscrutable owl do you pause and wonder....what good did your wisdom do you, friend?

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