Headstone Symbolism – Pointing Fingers

Hands feature on many gravestones and are usually shown clasped, pointing, praying or blessing.

Of these, hands with pointing fingers are perhaps the most common. Some hands point skywards, and some downwards. The direction doesn’t indicate, as some may presume, the direction in which the deceased was headed!

Hands with Fingers Pointing Upwards

The upward pointing hand symbolises the reward for the righteous, the pathway to heaven or confirmation of a life after death. Despite having photographed hundreds of headstones in Canterbury, New Zealand, I have yet to find this symbol.

Hands with the Finger Pointing Downwards

Headstone of Mary SANSON (d. 24th August, 1903) buried Greendale Cemetery

On its own a hand pointing downwards can symbolise mortality or sudden death.

When a hand with an index finger pointing downwards appears with a chain, this symbolises the hand of God plucking a family member into heaven. Often the link being plucked is broken.

Sometimes the downward pointing hand is shown as coming out of the clouds, depicted by spirals or swirls.

Headstone of John Dodsworth RUDD (d. 16th February, 1931) buried Greendale Cemetery


2 thoughts on “Headstone Symbolism – Pointing Fingers

  1. Found your blog looking for the pointing hand. The upward pointing hand is very common here in Michigan where I am taking volunteer photos for Find A Grave. Have only seen one of the downward pointing here so far. So interesting, thanks for your photos and observances.

    Posted by Brenda Kay Thom | May 31, 2017, 11:19 am
  2. It’s interesting to know that a finger point downwards could symbolize sudden death. I wouldn’t mind knowing if this is a common symbol used today or if it was only used for a period of time. It seems like a good way to date how old a tombstone could be.

    Posted by Taylor Bishop | May 11, 2018, 12:54 pm

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