Cemetery Terminology Decoded

St. Luke's Historic Church & Museum columbarium

Whether you’re new to estate planning or a taphophile (cemetery enthusiast), you may be unfamiliar with some of the terms you encounter. Let’s explore the definition of cemetery terms that you may come across. 


Plot – Land designated for burial. Burial plots at St. Luke’s in Smithfild, Virginia are 10’x4’ – 10’x5’


Lot – One or more adjacent burial plots grouped together for identification. A lot may be referenced according to identifying markers, which were placed when a cemetery was surveyed, or a lot may refer to a group of plots with shared owners.


Headstone – A stone marker indicating the identity of the deceased. It may also include the birth date, death date, and an epitaph. At St. Luke’s ancient cemetery and memorial park, we require gravestones to be made of marble or granite, some footstone markers are bronze plates affixed to a granite, such as the markers for veterans honoring their service to our country. There are a variety of headstones, including upright, flat & bevel, or bench.


Epitaph – A phrase, favorite quote, or other words of remembrance inscribed on a gravestone in memory of the deceased. 


Footstone – A small, simple stone indicating the border of a plot opposite the headstone.


Obelisk – A very common type of grave marker in the United States. The tapered, vertical shape is the same as the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.


Sarcophagus – An above-ground (or partially above ground) stone container for the deceased, similar to a coffin. 


Urn – A container for cremains. Can be decorative for display, or buried. If an urn is to be buried, St. Luke’s requires it to be made of cultured stone or metal. Because other materials like plastic or wood may decompose, they could result in sink holes in the cemetery. 


Cremation – The act of burning a dead person’s body to ashes. 


Cremains – Ashes; a person’s cremated remains.


Columbarium – A room or building with niches for cremains to be stored. At St. Luke’s, our columbarium a picturesque wall flanked by rose bushes. 


Inter – To place the remains of the deceased in a grave or tomb.

Now that you’re more familiar with cemetery terminology, we invite you to explore our historic cemetery grounds! And if you’re interested in learning more, look out for our next Cemetery Preservation Workshop, where we can teach you about how we care for headstones at St. Luke’s.

St. Luke's Historic Church Museum Cemetery Memorial Park
St. Luke's Historic Church Museum Cemetery Memorial Park

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