Choosing the Right Stone for Different Cemetery Environments

A stone headstone or cemetery monument can be a beautiful and long lasting monument to a life well lived and serves as a powerful, tangible focus of remembrance for a departed friend or relative. As such, a stone monument should be constructed from a stone that is suited to the conditions of the cemetery in which it is placed, and since the stones commonly used for headstones all have subtly different properties, your choice of materials can make the difference between a monument that lasts for twenty years and one that lasts for two hundred. 

Choosing a Monument for Hot, Arid Cemeteries

A cemetery in a dry area with little rainfall will generally be quite forgiving to headstones, as the lack of ambient moisture prevents them from succumbing to weather, water damage and lichen or moss build up. However, you should still take a certain degree of care when choosing a stone -- metamorphic stones, such as marble or alabaster, will suffer in very hot and dry climates, as the heat drives out the natural moisture suspended within the crystalline structure of the stone. This loss of moisture leads to rapid discolouration of the stone, causing unsightly patches of opacity and destroying the definition of recessed lettering. In addition, softer stones such as sandstone will be vulnerable to wind erosion, particularly in areas prone to sandstorms.

A good stone to use in these conditions is granite, as it is supremely durable and shrugs off even extreme temperatures. Granite is also available in a wide variety of shades and colours, and choosing a lighter shade that stands out in high amounts of sunshine will create a striking and beautiful memorial. 

Choosing a Monument for Damp, Heavily Wooded Cemeteries

Shady cemeteries with an abundance of trees can be wonderfully quiet and restful places in which to place a memorial, but unfortunately, the conditions do not make it easy to preserve a monument, as the high levels of airborne moisture promote weathering and allow lichen and fungi to thrive. You will also have to contend with trees dropping their sap and berries onto the monument, causing nasty stains that can be impossible to remove.

To avoid this, choose a hard, non-porous stone that resists moisture infiltration and can be cleaned without leaving behind stains or scratches from heavy scrubbing. Slate is an ideal choice for these purposes and has a natural, matte appearance that compliments the beauty of the natural surroundings very well. Slate is available in a variety of shades, but choosing a darker one will make lichen build-up much less obvious and necessitate less cleaning.

Choosing a Monument for Traditional Christian Cemeteries

If the departed was a devout, traditionalist Christian in life, they may wish to be remembered in the cemetery of a traditional church, many of which require tombstones to bear Biblical verses, psalms or other devotions. Naturally, a headstone placed in one of these cemeteries will need to respond well to letter carving, as they will need to bear many small letters which would erode quickly and become unreadable on softer stones.

In these circumstances, you should choose a stone that is both hard enough to resist the erosion of recessed lettering, and is also capable of being carved with small, intricate lettering. High-quality limestones, such as nabresina (also known as Roman stone), are ideal for these purposes, as they are very hard and resistant to the ravages of wind, weather and time. The light colouring of such limestones also provides a high level of contrast between lettering and the surrounding stone, eliminating the need for letter painting.