Motif on Cupids grave marker piques interest

Published on July 5, 2014
This gravestone symbol of an open book with a star on it, which Dale Jarvis noticed at an old Cupids cemetery recently, has sparked an interest in finding out what it means. — Photo submitted by Dale Jarvis

Dale Jarvis enjoys a mystery, and a gravestone symbol he came across in Cupids recently has given him one to solve.

The grave marker from 1881 features a motif of an open book with a star on it.

It is something that likely would catch the interest of Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon — that is, if Langdon wasn’t a fictional character in the novel “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown, and made famous in the blockbuster movie.

But without a real-life Langdon to draw upon, Jarvis is left with his own research and some of his own contacts who share his interest.

“I see a lot of the same symbols over and over and this one sort of popped out to me, one I was not familiar with,” said Jarvis, who has an interest in old graveyards and reading the inscriptions on headstones.

“So I just put it out there to see if anyone else had come across it. I looked online to see if I could find other examples of it, but I couldn’t in my initial search find anything, so it’s kind of a little mystery.

“I don’t know if it has a specific meaning or if it was just a blended motif they put together.”

It was common to use symbolic motifs on grave markers in the Victorian era.

And coming across mystery symbols, ancient objects and old stories is something that intrigues Jarvis as the cultural heritage development officer for Newfoundland and Labrador. He is also a Telegram columnist, the author of several books and founder of the St. John’s Haunted Hike.

The Cupids headstone is actually a double headstone marking the gravesite of two Taylor men. The Taylor man buried under the open book and star motif is Lorenzo Taylor, who died at age 22.

The other half of the double headstone contains a more familiar motif, that bearing a handshake.

Jarvis said books are a common theme on gravestones of that era, and the symbolism of the book can represent many things, such as a person's good deeds and accomplishments being recorded in the Book of Life, or perfect knowledge, or it may be a more literal representation of the Bible.

It is often used on the gravestones of clergymen.

In the Cupids cemetery, there are numerous examples of book motifs, many of them featuring the same double-page spread as the Taylor grave, but no others have the star.

Stars can have many meanings, he said. A five-pointed star can represent the Star of Bethlehem, the Epiphany, the star of Jesse or Jacob, and heavenly wisdom. Stars can also symbolize heaven.

“The motif on the other half of the grave marker, the handshake motif, is very common,” Jarvis said. “So, you essentially have these two that are juxtaposed, one that is very common and one that seems a little bit more unusual.

“What does the star on the book mean? Was it simply a stone carver’s blending of two unrelated religious symbols, and then picked out of a pattern book by the purchaser? Or does it represent something specific?”

Jarvis doesn’t think it will take a breathless race through Paris, London and beyond, as Langdon does in the book with an attractive French cryptologist at his side, to solve the mystery. Nor will it take the tying together of a trail of clues hidden in the works of Da Vinci.

But, still, he wouldn’t mind solving the mystery of the motif on the grave marker at the old Cupids cemetery.