The word “angel” can be traced back to the Greek “ángelos”, which means messenger: in most religions that include angels, their role is often to pass messages with guidance and often comfort from God to mankind (think: “Fear not…”). On headstones, urns, and other memorial art, they are often there to act as symbolic guardians, protecting the soul of the departed and escorting them to heaven.
Different types of angels have different meanings. Cherubim are often chosen to watch over the graves of babies and children, depicted much like winged children themselves. A mourning angel, like the famous Angel of Grief carved by sculptor, art critic and poet William W. Story, conveys the deep sorrow felt by those left behind.
In Christian art, an angel carrying a horn is likely to represent Gabriel, with the horn itself symbolising the Resurrection. An angel with a sword or shield is likely to be Michael, who in Catholic thought is the angel who guides departed souls to heaven. Angels gesturing upwards are often thought to be pointing the way, while those in prayer are praying for the soul of the person who has passed.