During a guided tour or our annual Soul Strolls, you may have noticed many of the headstones face the east. This is not uncommon for cemeteries. Many graves in cemeteries from Arlington County, VA, to Washington, DC, have grave markers facing this direction. Why?
Many headstones in cemeteries face east for religious or practical reasons. This practice can be traced back to ancient Egyptians and Greeks, who worshipped the sun god. Biblical scripture also contributes to this practice among Christians. Some graves also face this direction for aesthetic and easy maintenance reasons.
From the religious to the practical, there are different contributing reasons, and we explain them below.
It started with Ancient Sun Worshippers
The practice of burying the dead so their face would face the rising sun goes back to ancient Egyptians and Greeks who worshipped the sun god. According to their beliefs, it was most appropriate for their dead to face the sun to greet each new day.
The idea came to represent embracing the next life, which contributed to its widespread acceptance, especially in Judeo-Christian societies.
Speaking of Christians, the practice of east-facing tombstones can also be traced to the bible. The scripture (Matthew 24:27), which talks about the second coming of Christ, teaches that he will come from the east.
This belief also affects how Christian churches are built. The entrances face the west so that during services, worshippers face the east while looking at the altar.
And since most Christians prefer burying their dead in this direction, many headstones in our cemetery have this arrangement. A notable exception is clergy members who are buried facing west.
This is based on the belief that when the rapture occurs and the dead rise, the clergy will rise and face their congregation, positioned and ready to lead them again.
But religion and personal beliefs aren’t the only reason the practice continues to this day. There are practical reasons too.
For Aesthetic and Easy Maintenance
While religious beliefs may no longer be an overriding reason to maintain this practice, many graves continue to face this direction. Since there are historically more headstones that face east, we try to keep things that way for maintenance and aesthetic reasons.
This arrangement makes the area easier to navigate, especially one as large as Congressional Cemetery. A proper layout allows families to find their loved one and visitors to explore the lives buried here easily. Like taking a virtual stroll and 360°-degree tour of the cemetery.
Also, our maintenance workers can efficiently make their way through the grounds with their equipment.
Another benefit of maintaining this uniform arrangement is it helps conserve space. It helps accurately determine how many plots are available for purchase.
These are the reasons headstones face east. But they don’t have to. There’s no rule that determines the right direction to place a headstone. That’s up to your beliefs and preference.
Besides, it’s not the headstone direction that matters but honoring the deceased’s wishes and the life that’s been lived.
Whatever direction you wish to place the headstone, if you need a cemetery in Arlington County, VA, or its environs, we’re here to help. Call or visit us today. Our staff is ready to assist you.