Why a tombstone?

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What is the point of making a gravestone and what is it made of?

A tombstone is a stone memorial. It typically includes the name of the person buried, their dates of birth and death, and sometimes a personal message or prayer called an epitaph. When it is placed upright at the head of a grave it is more accurately called a stele.

A funeral slabalso known as tumulus slabA grave marker is a plaque, usually made of stone and placed over a grave, such as in the pavement of a church or on a wall, and usually bearing an epitaph or an engraved effigy.

The history of the tombstone

The tombstone, in its most literal form, has existed for thousands of years. Some archaeological sites show that Neanderthal man was buried in pits deep in caves.

In those days, tombstones were used to protect the body of the deceased from wild animals. This practice lasted for many years and placing stones on top of the grave became a kind of tradition that was not always confirmed.

Moreover, the superstitious believed that by doing so, they prevented the dead from coming back to life.

Tombstones: The different names

The different names of tombstones

Before being definitively called tombstones, they first went through several names.

However, the name still referred to the gravestone.

For example, at one point they were called memorials. But there are also names that are far removed from the term, such as 'memorial markers' or 'pet headstones' or 'double deep markers' and 'headstones for two'.


Gravestones have always been of great importance. Even though the various purposes sought by man in Neanderthal times and nowadays are quite different, the meaning of gravestones is still important.

Today, tombstones are the best way to honour the deceased by evoking their life or status in society on the headstone.

However, the tradition has changed a great deal from country to country and from generation to generation. It concerns in particular the shape of the grave, which is more or less dictated by the different customs practised by the inhabitants.

Among the Japanese, for example, it is traditional to build a tombstone after two people have been married. When one of them dies, the other paints the initials of the deceased in red on the headstone.

The concept of the cemetery

In the beginning, the graves were located near the family home. In those days, the materials used were mainly rough stones or wooden markers. The headstones only mentioned the name of the person, the age and the year of death. When the church recognised the burial, it was included in the funeral rite.

Graves and cemeteries gradually became common practice, both within and outside the funeral rites of churches. Tombstone monuments were usually square and slender, made of sandstone or slate.

Composition of a tombstone

Tombstone diagram 1. footing, 2. base, 3. stele, 4. tombstone

The funerary monument is composed of several parts that are assembled to form a whole, the tomb1 :

  • Footing: also called "passe pied", it is the horizontal part that forms the base of the monument.
  • Base: also called "cinder block", it constitutes the base of the funeral monument. Square or rounded, it can be fitted with a prie-dieu or a planter.
  • Stele: a vertical element of various shapes (stave, parchment, heart, tulip, triangular) intended to receive the epitaph and the ornament (lithography, sculpture in low relief, glass paste), directly planted in the ground or enhanced by a base.
  • Tombstone: horizontal element covering all or part of the burial site. Of variable shape (flat with slopes, in the shape of a gendarme's hat, overhanging) and size, it can receive the same ornaments as the stele and opens onto the vault.

The funeral engraving decorates the tombstone or stele. Generally in 5 types of colours (white, gold, black, Van Dick brown, silver), it allows the name and surname of the deceased to be inscribed, as well as the date of birth and death.

Rechambering is the renovation by the funeral marble worker of an engraving on a tombstone that tends to fade.