The term “Christograms” defines a combination of Greek or Latin words which indicates the name of Jesus Christ.
The need to shorten the name of Christ was born during the Christian persecutions of the first centuries.
However, the Christograms were used in the following centuries due to their simplicity and symbolism. During the Middle Age they were very popular, and even now the symbol is used as sacred decoration.
There are various types of Christograms.
The Chi Rho
Known as CHRISMON or Christ Monogram, it is composed by the overlap of the letters X and P, which are the initials of the word Χριστός’ (Khristòs), translated as “Messiah”.
Next to the figure the Greek letters alpha and omega are located, meaning the beginning and end of the Apocalypse, like Christ who is the beginning and the end of all things.
The Chi Ro was born in the 3rd century AC, used firstly privately and later publicly after the Milan Edict by the emperor Constantine, at the end of the Christian persecutions.
According to the historian Lactantius, the symbol was placed on the Roman flag used by the emperor during the conflicts. Because Constantine dreamed the symbol, it became a conversion sign to Christianity.
The Ichthys Christogram
The term ichthys is the latin translation of the Greek word ἰχϑύς, meaning “fish”.
It represents two intersecting semicircles which form a stylized fish.
The worship of the symbol as a figure of Christ is motivated by the words of the Gospels. The book of Luke (5,10) says: “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people”. It is an invite to detach from all that man owns for the evangelization.
Nonetheless, the word Ichthys is also an acronym of Iesùs CHristòs THeù HYiòs Sotèr (Jesus Christ son of God).
Recent studies speculate that the Christogram could derive from the rewriting of the most ancient Vesica Piscis symbol.
The IHS Christogram
The Trigram IHS (ΙΗΣ in Greek) was born in the 3rd century as sacred appointment, used as an abbreviation in the Greek versions of the New Testament.
This symbol shortens the name of Jesus: ΙΗΣΟΥΣ.
IHS is also the acronym of the sentence “In Hoc Signo vinces”. Eusebius tells that the symbol appeared to the Emperor Constantine next to a cross before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.
The widest IHS diffusion took place in the Middle Age. Saint Bernard de Clairvaux, who traced the Rule of the Cistercians and the Knights Templar, was the major promoter.
Starting from the 15th century the symbol is represented by a cross over a central letter by the will of the pope Martin V.
Samuele Corrente Naso
(Translation by Daniela Campus)
Samuele is the founder of Indagini e Misteri, a reason for being perhaps philosophical, vaguely existential and anthropological enough. He has a degree in biological sciences and forensic biology. For pleasure he look for transcendence through unusual and antiquated things, like uncertain symbolisms or enigmatic apotropaic rites. He pursues the mystery through the adventure but that, inexplicably, is always one step ahead.