Field Guide

Memento Mori

A memento mori is an image (drawing, sculpture, or photograph) or an item (hair locket, tear vial) that urged a person to "remember thy death". This tradition was started in Europe in the late Midlle Ages, most particularly with the Black Death and the "Dance of Death". Memento mori persisted through the nineteenth century. Its purpose is to remind the viewer that death is an unavoidable part of life, something to be prepared for at all times. Memento mori images are graphic demonstrations that death was not only a more freques various versions of this epitaph from a tombstone in the Howff Graveyward in Dundee, Scotland:

Remember Man as you Pass by
As you are now once was I
As I am now so must you be
Remember man that you must die

This epitaph and it variants are the most common ones found on Colonial New England gravestones.

Thomas Chittenden's gravestone in Chittenden Cemetery, Williston VT is a great example of Memento Mori. Click here to view.

Taken from Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography written and photographed by Douglas Keister, published by Gibbs Smith, Salt Lake City, 2004.