Stones Of Faith - Pennsylvania Germans and their Gravestones

A look at blooming hearts and vases and their genealogy, history, folk art and archeology, with German language translations.


BY LOCATION - The #1 Online Genealogy Library!

Vessels of Faith:
Blooming Hearts and Vases

1770s Lancaster GravestoneThere is a flower in the meadow,
Jesus, my Lord,
In Him do I have my joy,
Would gladly be with Him.
I shall encompass Him within my heart,
And keep Him there forever;
(part of a hymn from the "Schwenkfelder Hymnbook", 1762) 48

Ach, mogte doch mein Herz allein
Ein Busch von tausend Rosen seyn
Und mein Gemuth ein Lilien-Feld
Ja, ein Granaten-Blumen-Zelt.

O, might my heart only be,
A bush of a thousand roses;
And my mind a field of lilies,
Yes a tent of pomegranate flowers.
((The Dunker's "Das Kleine Davidische Psalterspiel" hymnal printed by Christopher Sauer printed in 1744, hymn #18, verses 4) 50

1774 Montgomery Gravestone1773 Lehigh GravestoneTwo major symbols of the Pennsylvania Germans were the blooming heart and the vase of blooming flowers. Although both carry the same basic meaning and are used interchangeably, and often side by side on Fraktur and other Pennsylvania German art, they have different histories and treatment in Pennsylvania German writings.

The Blooming Heart

1757 Lancaster Gravestone1770s Lancaster GravestoneThe blooming heart is a combination of the heart and the lily-tulip and/or Rose of Sharon. As seen in the verses above, the Pennsylvania Germans liked to write about, and envision, their hearts being the home of, and blooming with, the faith and belief in Christ the bringer of a promise of life after death, the lily and the rose. Like the heart alone, the blooming heart appears frequently on Fraktur and other Pennsylvania German arts and crafts.

1772 Northampton Gravestone1789 Northampton GravestoneMany gravestones of the Pennsylvania Germans have hearts blooming with just lilies, sometimes in sets of three, or a combination of lilies, roses and other flowers that are not always identifiable. Unlike Fraktur, where hearts usually bloomed from the top, gravestone hearts could also be shown turned upside down and blooming from the bottom.

1891 Lancaster GravestoneBlooming hearts went out use by the 1820s, although there is one example of a stylized blooming heart in this collection from the 1890s.

The Vase of Blooming Flowers

1781 Lehigh GravestoneThe vases of blooming flowers had the same meaning as the blooming hearts, only here the heart was replaced with a vase. This symbol shows up on all different aspects of Pennsylvania arts and crafts but rarely, if ever, is referred to specifically in their writings. To understand its usage we need to look at its possible origins1790s Lancaster Gravestone in the religous art of late medieval and renaissance periods in Europe. For 300 years, until the 1800s, churches, religous books and alters throughout Europe often portrayed lilies growing in a vase as a primary symbol of the Annunciation scene, symbolizing Mary the pure (symbolized as lilies) vessel (the vase) about to becoming the bearer of Christ.
Annunciation Scene
The vase shown in these scenes usually had two curving handles, was footed, with a round full body, the pregnant female shape, like many of those seen in Pennsylvania German gravestone art. After the Reformation in the 1500s, 1773 Northampton Gravestone1777 Northampton Gravestonethe worship of Mary was discouraged and the Annunciation scene was dropped as a religous subject in areas no longer under the influence of the Catholic Church. The vase of flowers then shows up in paintings popular in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds in both Protestant and Catholic Europe called Vanitas. Here it is used to signify the brevity of life taking on the meaning of flowers in general. It is possible that this1777 Northampton Gravesetone symbol of the Annunciation, the beginning of the Christ story as told in the book of Luke, chapter one, became a folk art motif and shorthand method of recalling the promise of the angel to Mary that she would bear the Son of God, who would become the redeemer of man from sin, thus enabling eternal life, later becoming a metaphor for any person with the belief and faith in Christ growing in them. This would then make the usage of the vase of flowers understandable and very pertinent as a life after death motif which would have multiple layers of meaning when combined with the traditions of flowers in general, which represented the brevity of life.

1781 Lancaster GravestoneMost of the vase of flowers gravestones in this collection have lilies as the1811 Fraktur @John Bieber the prominent flower with roses and other flowers blooming beneath, although a number show only lilies. There are two stones at Cherryville that could be a vase of blooming flowers type which have a carnation like flower as the top element. This flower type is usually seen in Schwenkfelder fraktur art as the top element of their vase of blooming flowers motif, with lilies appearing as a secondary flower. It is hard to tell if these stones are vase-of-flowers stones since their bottom halves are buried.

1859 Lehigh GravestoneLike the blooming hearts, the use of vases of blooming flowers as a gravestone decoration died out in the 1820s, but reemerged in the 1850s as realistic bouquets of flowers, a mourning symbol for the shortness of life.

End Of Page

Copyright 1985-2005 Sandra J. Hardy. All rights reserved.

Those more interested in the genealogy, history, folk art and archeology of the PA Germans blooming hearts and vases motifs and German language translations, see the Links Page.