AskDefine | Define cenotaph

Dictionary Definition

cenotaph n : a monument built to honor soldiers who died in a war

User Contributed Dictionary



From κενός (empty) + τάφος (tomb)


  1. A monument erected to honour the dead whose bodies lie elsewhere; especially members of the armed forces who died in battle.


a monument

Extensive Definition

A cenotaph is a tomb or a monument erected in honour of a person or group of persons whose remains are elsewhere. It can also be the initial tomb for a person who has since been interred elsewhere. The word derives from the Greek κενοτάϕιον (kenos, one meaning being "empty", and taphos, "tomb"). Although the vast majority of cenotaphs are erected in honour of individuals, many of the best-known cenotaphs are instead dedicated to the memories of groups of individuals, such as the war dead of one country or empire.

The Cenotaph, London

Probably the best-known cenotaph in the modern world is the one that stands in Whitehall, London. It was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who conceived the idea from the name of a structure in Gertrude Jekyll's garden, and constructed from Portland stone between 1919 and 1920 by Holland, Hannen & Cubitts. It replaced Lutyen's identical wood-and-plaster cenotaph erected in 1919 for the Allied Victory Parade commissioned by David Lloyd George, and is a Grade I listed building. It is undecorated save for a carved wreath on each end and the words "The Glorious Dead", chosen by Rudyard Kipling.
The sides of the Cenotaph are not parallel, but if extended would meet at a point some 900 feet above the ground. Similarly, the "horizontal" surfaces are in fact sections of a sphere whose centre is 900 feet below ground. The joints of the masonry are all within one-fourteenth of an inch (1.8 millimetres).
It is flanked on each side by various flags of the United Kingdom which Lutyens had wanted to be carved in stone. Although Lutyens was overruled and cloth flags were used, his later Rochdale cenotaph had stone flags. In the years following 1919, the Cenotaph displayed a Union Flag, a White Ensign, and a Red Ensign on one side and a Union Flag, a White Ensign, and a Blue Ensign on the other side. On 1 April 1943, an RAF Ensign was substituted for the White Ensign on the west side of the monument. The flags displayed as of 2007 represent the Royal Navy, the British Army, the Royal Air Force, and the Merchant Navy.
The Cenotaph is the site of the annual national service of remembrance held at 11:00 a.m. on Remembrance Sunday, the closest Sunday to 11 November (Armistice Day).
Uniformed service personnel (excluding fire and ambulance personnel) always salute the Cenotaph as they pass. It was, for example, very noticeably the only salute made by the Royal Horse Artillery driver of Princess Diana's funeral carriage during that procession; on that occasion he did not salute even the queen.

Cenotaphs around the world

Cenotaphs have been erected in many countries around the world since ancient times. It was a common tradition in the ancient world, with many examples built in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and across in Northern Europe (in the shape of Neolithic barrows). The practice is still continued around the world. Lutyens' cenotaph influenced the design of many other war memorials in Britain and the British sectors of the Western Front. The John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial in Dallas is often described as a cenotaph. The Cenotaph in Central, Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong and the Cenotaph in Singapore were erected in memorial of the war dead in World War I. A cenotaph in Yale University's Hewitt Quad (or Beinecke Plaza) honours the Men of Yale who died in battle.
The cenotaph concept is by no means confined to Europe. One of the most famous non-European examples is the concrete Memorial Cenotaph at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, designed by Kenzo Tange to commemorate the 200,000 victims of the August 1945 atomic bomb attack.
The Victory Square Cenotaph, located in Victory Square in Vancouver, BC, Canada was built as a memorial to the Canadian soldiers who died in World War I. The India Gate is a war memorial in New Delhi commemorating the Indian dead of the First World War.
The Voortrekker Monument stands in Pretoria, South Africa. The two main points of interest in the building are the Historical Frieze and the Cenotaph Hall. The unique marble Historical Frieze is an intrinsic part of the design of the monument and is situated in the Hall of Heroes. The focus point of the monument is the cenotaph. On top of the Hall of Heroes is a dome from where one can view the interior of the monument. It is through an opening in this dome that the sun shines at twelve o'clock on December 16 each year onto the middle of the cenotaph and the words 'Ons vir Jou, Suid-Afrika' or Afrikaans for 'We for Thee, South Africa'. The ray of sunshine symbolises God's blessing on the lives and endeavours of the Voortrekkers. 16 December was chosen as it is the date in 1838 that the Battle of Blood River was fought.
The Church of Santa Engrácia, in Lisbon, Portugal, turned into a National Pantheon since 1966, holds six cenotaphs, namely to Luís de Camões, Pedro Álvares Cabral, Afonso de Albuquerque, Nuno Álvares Pereira, Vasco da Gama and Henry the Navigator.

Chhatris (cenotaphs) in India

In India, cenotaphs are a basic element of Hindu architecture borrowed from Islam. They are termed chhatris, meaning canopy, and are found throughout the northwestern region of Rajasthan. In the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, chhatris are built on the cremation sites of wealthy or distinguished individuals. Chhatris in Shekhawati may consist of a simple structure of one dome raised by four pillars to a building containing many domes and a basement with several rooms. In some places, the interior of the chhatris is painted in the same manner as the Havelis. Some of the best-known chhatris in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan are located at the following cities and towns:
Many other chhatris exist in other parts of Rajasthan. Their locations include:
  • Jaipur - Gaitore is an enclosed area in a narrow valley where the cenotaphs of Jaipur's rulers are located. The cenotaphs of the former rulers of Jaipur consist of the somewhat typical chhatri or umbrella-shaped memorials. Jai Singh Chhatri is particularly noteworthy because of the carvings that have been used to embellish it.
  • Jodhpur - White marble Chhatri of Maharaja Jaswant Singh II
  • Bharatpur- the cenotaphs of the members of the Jat royal family of Bharatpur, who died fighting against the British in 1825, are erected in the town of Govardhan. The chhatri of Maharaja Suraj Mal of Bharatpur has fine frescos illuminating the life of Surajmal, vividly depicting darbar and hunting scenes, royal processions and wars.
  • Udaipur-. Flanked by a row of enormous stone elephants, the Lake Pichola island has an impressive chhatri carved from gray blue stone, built by Maharana Jagat Singh.
  • Haldighati - a beautiful Chhatri with white marble columns, dedicated to Rana Pratap, stands here. The cenotaph dedicated to Chetak, Rana Pratap's famous horse, is also noteworthy.
  • Alwar - Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri is a beautiful red sandstone and white marble cenotaph of the rulers of Alwar.
  • Bundi - Suraj Chhatri and Mordi Ki Chhatri, Chaurasi Stambh Chhatri and Nath Ji ki Chhatri are located in Bundi. Rani Shyam Kumari wife of Raja Chhatrasal on the northern hill constructed the Suraj Chhatri and Mayuri the second wife of Chhatrasal on the southern hill erected Mordi Ki Chhatri.
  • Bikaner - Devi Kund near Bikaner is the royal crematorium place with a number of cenotaphs. The chhatri of Maharaja Surat Singh is most imposing. It has the spectacular Rajput paintings on the ceilings.
  • Nagaur - Nath Ji ki Chhatri, Amar Singh Rathore-ki-Chhatri
The region of Madhya Pradesh is the site of several other notable chhatris:

Cenotaphs for the missing

Although most notable cenotaphs commemorate notable individuals buried elsewhere, many cenotaphs pay tribute to people whose remains have never been located. One of the most striking cenotaphs to be found in Arlington National Cemetery is that of RMS Titanic victim Major Archibald Butt, aide to President William Taft, whose body was not recovered after the sinking.

Cenotaphs in art

Cenotaphs have also been the subject of a number of famous illustrations, notably:
cenotaph in Catalan: Cenotafi
cenotaph in German: Kenotaph
cenotaph in Spanish: Cenotafio
cenotaph in French: Cénotaphe
cenotaph in Italian: Cenotafio
cenotaph in Luxembourgish: Kenotaph
cenotaph in Hungarian: Cenotáfium
cenotaph in Dutch: Cenotaaf
cenotaph in Japanese: 慰霊碑
cenotaph in Norwegian: Kenotaf
cenotaph in Polish: Cenotaf
cenotaph in Portuguese: Cenotáfio
cenotaph in Russian: Кенотаф
cenotaph in Swedish: Kenotaf
cenotaph in Chinese: 和平紀念碑 (香港)

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

arch, barrow, beehive tomb, bone house, boundary stone, box grave, brass, burial, burial chamber, burial mound, bust, cairn, catacombs, charnel house, cist, cist grave, column, cromlech, cross, crypt, cup, cyclolith, deep six, dokhma, dolmen, footstone, grave, gravestone, headstone, hoarstone, house of death, inscription, last home, long home, low green tent, low house, marker, mastaba, mausoleum, megalith, memento, memorial, memorial arch, memorial column, memorial statue, memorial stone, menhir, monolith, monstrance, monument, mound, mummy chamber, narrow house, necrology, obelisk, obituary, ossuarium, ossuary, passage grave, pillar, pit, plaque, prize, pyramid, reliquary, remembrance, resting place, ribbon, rostral column, sepulcher, shaft, shaft grave, shrine, stela, stone, stupa, tablet, testimonial, tomb, tombstone, tope, tower of silence, trophy, tumulus, vault
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