Stones Of Faith - Pennsylvania Germans and their Gravestones

A look at the genealogy, history, folk art and archeology of the PA Germans and their gravestones, with German language translations, at Manheim.





Pennsylvania and American German Gravestone Guide

Roses, Serpent and the Sun Symbol at Manheim - Roses and Serpent

Martin Luther coat of armsNorth of Lancaster, Lancaster Co., in the town of Manheim founded by James Olds' grandfather 'Baron' von Stiegel, who built and ran a glass factory there, stands a Lutheran church built on land given to the people of Manheim by Stiegel for the rent of one red rose a year.29 This rose rent was not unique, but is appropriate for a Lutheran congregation since a rose enclosing a heart with a cross in its center, surrounded by a ring of gold, was the seal adopted by Martin Luther (also called the 'Luther Rose'), which he prominently displayed in his bibles and other printed material. This device is described as a "cross black of mortification; the rose white for the joys of faith, the field blue for the joy of heaven, and the ring gold for eternal blessedness"30. The rose rent ceremony is still performed in Manheim today.

Picture of Andreas Bartruff StoneOne of the finest of the Pennsylvania German stones stands in this graveyard. Erected for Andreas Bartruff in 1795 (born in 1724), its roses, hourglass and serpent-on-a-column convey a message to whoever can read the symbols. The hourglass symbolizes the passing time that brings death. This death is conquered by the gift of the death of Christ represented here by the serpent raised on a column. This is the only carving of a raised snake I known of in Pennsylvania German gravestone art, and probably alludes to John 3 verses 14-15, where Jesus, speaking of his coming death and the redemption it would offer those who believed in him, says,

...And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Picture of Serpent on the ColumnThe event referred to is the Old Testament story of the bronze serpent. In Numbers 21, vs. 4-9, the scriptures tell how the soul of the Children of Israel turned against Moses and God, causing God to send a scourge of fiery, deadly serpents as a punishment. When the people came to Moses, admitting they had sinned and begging him to intercede with God, he prayed for their deliverance. And, as the King James Version of the Bible tells it:

... the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that everyone that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lives.

This representation of the an uplifted snake was a pictorial event used by the Luther Bible illustrators, although they preferred portraying their snakes uplifted upon a tee-bar pole, not a classical Doric column as shown on Andreas' stone.32

There might be a temptation to interpret the serpent-on-a-column carving as a caduceus, the sign of a doctor. English cravers often engraved the implements of a person's profession on their tombstone, but this practise was rare among the Pennsylvania German carvers. Andreas Bartruff was an innkeeper, whose place of business stood on Manheim's High street, and there is no record of his ever practicing medicine.31

The roses twining around the top of the stone signified Christ and faith in the redemption promised by his death, like the roses referred to in the Luther coat of arms mentioned above. The roses on the Bartruff stone are rendered geometrically, but the stems and leaves are delicate and life like. In the 1700s, the Pennsylvania Germans often combined geometric design and realistic elements in their folk art, which gives some of their works an almost modernistic look.

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

Those more interested in the genealogy, history, folk art and archeology of the PA Germans and their gravestones, with German language translations, at Manheim, see the Links Page and General Symbol Definitions.