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What does it mean?

(Puzzle 001)

This was one of several puzzling crosses for which we had been searching its symbolic meaning. We are now pretty sure there is none.

Puzzling symbols index

What do these symbols mean?

Mysterious grave stone markings
(Click photo to enlarge)

The photo shows the top half of a grave marker (you probably guessed that). Precisely where, is irrelevant; and we want to keep it secret to protect the peace and quiet of the place. What we can tell you, is that the grave stone is in the burial grounds of an old Anglican church in the north of England.

Fleur de lis

Looking at the very top of the stone we see an unremarkable fleurie or budded symbol; not uncommon in neogothic churches and graveyards, and usually represents the Holy Trinity in a Christian setting such as this.

But what about the symbols carved near the top? Are they just a whim of the engraver? Quite possibly, but if they do mean something, what?

At first sight, the large centre design looks like a Jewish Star of David. But this is unusual to find in a Christian graveyard; especially since the top left/right triangles enforce the Trinity concept, which is rejected by the Jewish a faith. In any case, the Star of David only became a popular Jewish symbol in the UK in the late 19th century, many years after this gravestone was carved, so a Jewish connection is less likely.

We've had one or two suggestions that triangles might be Pagan and that the top left / right triangles represent male and female. Indeed, as viewers of the daVinci Code movie will have seen, the Star of David can mean the divine union of male and female energy, where the male is represented by the upper triangle ('blade') and the female by the lower one ('chalice').

Quite possible but again, rather out of place in this context.

Another idea proffered is that the star is a Masonic symbol. Stars are common in Freemasonry but usually they are pentagrams. In any case, such Masonic symbols are incompatible with the Christian setting.

Chinese checkers board
Chinese Checkers board

Centre figure
Hexagram

Was the deceased, Mr William Watson, an expert in Chinese Checkers? Or a mathematician? In our school days, most of us probably never appreciated that πr2 would be so critical to remember in later life. But if we did manage to stay awake during those lectures, then we might recall that two equilateral triangles give us a representation of G2, which, having 12 roots, forms the vertices of a hexagram. (Make a note of that - you never know when you might need it.)

Mickey Mouse in a pointy hat

We also rejected the idea that the top left/right shapes were outlines of Mickey Mouse wearing a pointy hat; not only because that's too silly, but also because the gravestone is early 19th century and Mickey Mouse didn't appear until 1928. Yet bizarrely, this leads us to one of two most likely explanations: The date.

  1. If you click on the top photo to enlarge it, you can see that Mr Watson died on 24th December 1840 - Christmas Eve. What a wonderful tribute for Mr Watson, to mark his headstone with a Bethlehem Star, the Christian symbol associated with New Life.

  2. The second explanation was sent to us a few years after uploading this puzzle page. Nobody seemed to have noticed (including ourselves) the inscription lower down the stone, which says: "David son of David and Maria Williams ...".

    Somebody named Davy in Canada kindly wrote to say that he, and no doubt many other Davids, often use the Star of David as a sort of family logo. However, as mentioned above, the Star of David was not common in the UK when this particular deceased was laid to rest.

    Even so, the symbol has been used to decorate Christian churches for hundreds of years as a family logo – not only for Davids, but for all those in the family of Christ. In this context the logo is, of course, the light of Christ.

For everybody, named David or not, mathematicians, Masons and Pagans, that simple star shape reminds us of the birth of Jesus, who came to this world to teach us something infinitely more valuable than Pythagoras did. Jesus also came to this world to give us the opportunity for Eternal Life.

In addition to the star's symbolic association with resurrection, a star on a grave marker symbolises the continued existence of loved ones. Like stars in the sky, they are out of reach yet it is clear that they exist. Stars lift our eyes toward heaven.

The six-pointed star can be seen in some stained-glass windows of Christian churches (it appears in the ceiling of the Washington National Cathedral) and is often called the Star of Creation. The carving on this grave stone reminds us that the light of Jesus is not restricted to those born in the Jewish faith, the Masons, Pagans, Hindus, or anyone else. Absolutely anyone can see this light.

So this mystery file is now closed. Like Mr David Watson, it has been laid to rest.

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