The Art of the Cemetery: Winged Scarab

Regarded as sacred in Ancient Egypt, the often brilliantly colored scarab is a stout-bodied dung beetle of the Mediterranean area.  The insect with a hard shell-like back held great significance to Ancient Egyptians as they believed that the beetle’s dung ball was representative of the world-the dung beetle kept the world forever revolving like its ball of manure- linking the insect to Khepri, the Egyptian god of the rising sun.  Interpreted as a symbol of birth, death, and resurrection, the dung beetle came to represent the eternal cycle of life.

In Ancient Egypt, the scarab was believed to protect those who wore it as an amulet from illness.  Placing it next to the deceased meant that the departed could be resurrected and thus attain eternal life.  In fact, the scarab symbol was often engraved on the sarcophagi (stone coffin) or tomb rooms in Luxor, home to the Valley of the Kings and Queens, as well as other tombs in one of the most advanced civilizations of the ancient world.  Some scarab beetle symbols featured wings.  The wings acted as an additional connector to the scarab-faced god Khepri, who was believed to represent creation.  Winged scarabs guaranteed rebirth for the deceased and assured a smooth flight to the next world.  While any scarab was believed to bring good luck, winged scarabs in particular were associated with a safe journey to the afterlife.  Widely popular in Ancient Egypt, winged scarabs survive in large numbers today.

Winged scarabs, often portrayed with falcon wings as a symbol of eternal life, are a popular motif in Egyptian Revival architecture, which uses the themes and imagery of Ancient Egyptian art.  Almost every Egyptian Revival tomb or mausoleum, popular in American decorative arts throughout the 19th century, is adorned with a winged scarab.  For instance, the stately mausoleum for American entrepreneur and founder of F. W. Woolworth Company Frank Winfield Woolworth on our grounds features winged scarabs among other Egyptian symbols, including sphinxes, ankhs (the key of life is Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol), sun discs, cobras, and lotuses.  Much used in funerary art, winged scarabs offered protection and good fortune on the journey from this world to the next.

Woodlawn is an open-air art gallery and living history museum that attracts 100,000 visitors annually.  Our memorials represent the largest and finest collection of funerary art in the country.  Visit our cemetery and explore 400 acres of art, architecture, and history.

Woodlawn continues to be a non-sectarian cemetery without a specific religious affiliation.