Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Hand of Fate

While slogging my way on safari through the cemeteries of the Commonwealth (neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this courier), I've often been curious about the floating hand that appears on many gravestones. For the most part, the hand has a finger pointing upward, presumably to Heaven. But every now and then you find one whose finger is pointing down.

What's up with that, I ask you? Surely they aren't suggesting that the person in the grave is going to H-E-double-toothpicks?

My colleague Joseph A. Citro, in his fine tome Weird New England, delves into the matter but remains stumped by the mysterious omnidirectional hand. And a cursory Google search led to me to a somewhat unsatisfying and specious-sounding explanation on the About.com: "A hand with the index finger pointing upward symbolizes the hope of heaven, while a hand with the index finger pointing down represents God reaching down for the soul."

I have trouble believing that the up and down fingers both mean essentially the same thing. If the up-pointing digit means Heaven, surely the people of centuries past saw the obvious logical symmetry implied by the hand pointing down. Then again, I wasn't there so I don't really know, and they're all dead themselves now, so who you gonna ask?

(Both examples of the hand spotted in Bedford Cemetery, Trimble County.)


Nicosia said...

I know of someone who might be able to help you. Check out this site www.graveaddiction.com. the girl who runs it is named Beth and she is VERY knowledgeable about gravestone symbolism. Hope this helps!

Hp said...

The finger pointing down is intertwined with a vine, perhaps symbolizing one that planted (significant crops or the community for example)

enin said...

Instead of the usual cross, The Philippus United Church of Christ in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati has this same upward pointing hand topping it's steeple. You can see it from nearby I-71. According to the church historian "It's Philippus pointing the way".