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Why is a cross placed at the feet of a cemetery?

In the Russian Orthodox tradition, installing a cross on a grave has its own characteristics. Although there are different points of view on this issue, the church usually recommends placing a cross at the feet of the deceased. In this article we will look at the symbolic meaning of the cross at the feet and the cross above the head, and also share tips on how to properly install a cross on a grave. Symbolism of the cross at the feet There are several explanations for why the cross is usually placed at the feet of the deceased in Orthodoxy:

  1. Symbol of eternal life and spiritual support: In the Orthodox faith, the cross is considered a symbol of eternal life and spiritual support. By resting his feet on the cross, the deceased can find support in his spiritual journey.
  2. Physical support on the day of resurrection: On the day of resurrection, which all Orthodox Christians expect, the cross can become not only spiritual, but also literally physical support for the deceased. Relying on it, he will be able to rise from the burial place.
  3. Ability to pray while looking at the cross: It is assumed that the deceased will be able to pray while looking at the cross. This is only possible if the cross is further away from the head.

Although most clergy consider these explanations to be logical, there is another point of view that should also be respected.

Symbolism of the cross above your head

The second point of view is to place a cross above your head. With this arrangement of the cross there is a hidden meaning:

  1. Banner: a symbol of victory over the devilish forces: A cross mounted above the head can symbolize a banner, a sign of victory over the devilish forces. Believers who adhere to this point of view believe that after the resurrection, the deceased will proudly raise the cross above his head, using it as a weapon against the devil.

Placing a cross over your head is found not only among Catholics and Lutherans, but also among some Orthodox Christians. In some cemeteries you can see that all the crosses are installed at the head, and not at the feet. It depends on local traditions, which may have existed for decades or hundreds of years.

How to properly install a cross on a grave

When installing a cross on a grave, several points must be taken into account:

  1. Choosing a cross: For Orthodox burials, an eight-pointed cross is usually chosen. It can be made of wood or metal and painted in neutral colors such as beige, blue or light green.
  2. Information plaque: A plaque is usually placed on the cross with the first and last name of the deceased, as well as the dates of life and death. The photograph on the cross is not accepted, unlike the monument.
  3. Stability of the cross: The cross must be installed in such a way that it is resistant to wind, rain and other adverse weather conditions. It must be reliable and durable, as it is a symbol of support and eternity.

When choosing the place and method of installing the cross, the relatives of the deceased can be guided by both generally accepted rules and local traditions.

Metal crosses on graves

Placing a cross on a grave has its own symbolic meaning in the Russian Orthodox tradition. It can be placed at the feet of the deceased to symbolize eternal life and spiritual support, or above the head to symbolize victory over the devilish forces. When installing a cross, it is necessary to choose the appropriate type of cross and ensure its stability. The decision on where to place the cross may depend on local traditions and the preferences of the relatives of the deceased.

Before installing a tombstone, the question sometimes arises: how to place a monument on an Orthodox grave? Which side should the stele be placed on – at the feet or at the head? For many believers, the answer to this question is unambiguous, but still there are no written canons in the sacred scriptures. The tradition of installing a cross and a monument in the future depends on the region of burial of the deceased person; customs may differ in different territories. In this article we will figure out how to place a monument on an Orthodox grave and why Christians adhere to such rules.

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West or east? From a religious point of view

To clarify all the nuances of this issue, let us turn to the history of Orthodoxy and the principles of the Christian faith. Death for Christians is the separation of the body from the immortal soul. After death, a person’s body is given to the earth, and the soul, having gone through a private trial, ends up either in heaven or in hell. Christians believe that according to the New Testament, the second coming of Jesus Christ will occur, the dead will rise from their graves, be reunited with their souls, and gain eternal life. According to the scriptures, Jesus will come from the East, where Paradise is located in the Bible. Therefore, the East in Christianity is associated with new life, and the West with its decline. The altar in the church is always facing the East; Orthodox Christians also customarily pray while facing the East. Hence the tradition of placing the deceased in the grave – they are buried facing the East in order to pray while seeing the sunrise.

Where do they place a monument on the graves of Christians?

The peculiarities of the placement of the body in the grave determine the location of the cross, and then the stele of the monument. It is customary to place the cross at the feet, so that the crucifix faces the face of the deceased. A concomitant reason for this arrangement of the cross and stele of the monument is the event foretold in the New Testament – the second coming of Christ. In the event of rising from the grave, the deceased will be able to observe the great victory of the Lord over Satan and, taking the cross in his hands, follow the Savior. Catholics have another tradition – it is customary to place a cross at the head of the head. This arrangement symbolizes the banner that a person will carry in his hands during the second coming of Christ.

What if the coffin was placed incorrectly in the grave?

There are cases when, during the funeral of an Orthodox Christian, a mistake was made and the coffin was placed in a grave in a cemetery with its head facing the East. This is rare, and rather an exception to the rule. Where should the monument be placed in this case? And is it necessary to rebury a person before installing a monument? If you ask a priest this question, you will hear a clear answer: “Yes, the deceased should be reburied with his head facing the West.” In this case, the preburial will not be considered an exhumation, and it will not have to be documented. Of course, such a maneuver will not be cheap, but the burial will be carried out correctly and in accordance with generally accepted Christian norms.

What to do with the cross after installing the monument?

The location of the monument stele, as well as the cross after burial, depends on the location of the deceased in the grave. When you decide to improve the burial site and install a monument, do not throw away the cross. This cannot be done. If there is a wooden cross on the grave, it can be burned and the ashes scattered over the grave. If it is made of metal, the cross can be buried near the burial site. Often the cross is placed under the monument before its installation. This method is quite simple and will not take much time. This arrangement of the cross is approved by the church, because in this case it remains with the buried person forever. When wondering where to place a monument on a grave, remember the will of the deceased. Perhaps during his lifetime he expressed a desire regarding the installation of the cross. If the deceased voiced his will, then carry it out. Regardless of accepted norms and traditions. According to the church, fulfilling the will of the deceased is most important. After all, a Christian’s monument is a reflection of his soul, a tribute to relatives and a memory that will live for centuries.


A monument to a Christian is usually placed at the feet. The tradition of installing a cross and a monument in the future depends on the region where the person is buried; customs may differ in different territories. The cross, and then the stele of the monument in the cemetery, are placed from the East so that a person can pray while looking at the sunrise. Placing a monument at the feet or head also depends on the will of the deceased person. If a person voiced it during his lifetime, relatives should do just that.

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