Posts Tagged ‘relict’

When we traveled to Boston and Salem in the fall of 2018, I was of course excited at the opportunities to explore some of the oldest cemeteries in North America. I also realized I needed to brush back up on my cemetery symbolism and language. As I’ve written before, when a woman is described as the consort of her husband on a gravestone, she usually predeceased him. If he predeceased her, the inscription may refer to her as a relict, an old-fashioned word for widow.

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, Boston, Massachusetts
Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, Boston, Massachusetts
Old Burying Point, Salem, Massachusetts

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Mrs. Ruth, Relict of Rev Joseph Tracy

One of the terms I wasn’t familiar with when I first started visiting cemeteries was relict.


According to a number of etymological dictionaries I have checked, relict comes from the Latin relinquere, which means to relinquish or leave behind. There were related nouns in Latin that meant left behind or abandoned – relictus and relicta (masculine and feminine). The term emerged according to these etymologies by the mid-15th century and was considered antiquated by the early 20th century. Some of these dictionaries state the term is gender neutral, but others specifically state that a relict is a widow, and that’s the only way I’ve seen it on tombstones thus far.


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