A Christogram is a monogram or combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ, traditionally used as a Christian symbol. As in the case of Chrismon, the term Christogram comes from the Latin phrase "Christi Monogramma", meaning "monogram of Christ".
In Eastern Christianity, the most widely used Christogram is a four-letter abbreviation, ΙϹΧϹ — a traditional abbreviation of the Greek words for "Jesus Christ" (i.e., the first and last letters of each of the words ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ — written "ΙΗϹΟΥϹ ΧΡΙϹΤΟϹ" with the lunate sigma "Ϲ" common in medieval Greek). On icons, this Christogram may be split: "ΙϹ" on the left of the image and "ΧϹ" on the right, most often with a bar above the letters (see titlos), indicating that it is a sacred name. It is sometimes rendered as "ΙϹΧϹ ΝΙΚΑ", meaning "Jesus Christ Conquers." "ΙϹΧϹ" may also be seen inscribed on the Ichthys. In the traditional icon of Christ Pantokrator, Christ's right hand is shown in a pose that represents the letters ΙϹ, Χ, and Ϲ.
In the Latin-speaking Christianity of medieval Western Europe (and so among Catholics and many Protestants today), the most common Christogram became "IHS" or "IHC", denoting the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus, iota-eta-sigma, or ΙΗΣ.
The Greek letter iota is represented by I, and the eta by H, while the Greek letter sigma is either in its lunate form, represented by C, or its final form, represented by S. Because the Latin-alphabet letters I and J were not systematically distinguished until the 17th century, "JHS" and "JHC" are equivalent to "IHS" and "IHC".
"IHS" is sometimes interpreted as meaning Iesus Hominum Salvator ("Jesus, Savior of men" in Latin) or connected with In Hoc Signo. Such interpretations are known as backronyms. Used in Latin since the seventh century, the first use of IHS in an English document dates from the fourteenth century, in The vision of William concerning Piers Plowman. Saint Bernardino of Siena popularized the use of the three letters on the background of a blazing sun to displace both popular pagan symbols and seals of political factions like the Guelphs and Ghibellines in public spaces (see Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus). English-language interpretations of "IHS" have included "I Have Suffered" or "In His Service", or jocularly and facetiously "Jesus H. Christ".
One of the oldest Christograms is the Chi-Rho or Labarum. It consists of the superimposed Greek letters chi (Χ) and rho (Ρ), which are the first two letters of Christ in Greek. Technically, the word labarum is Latin for a type of vexillum, a military standard with a flag hanging from a horizontal crossbar. A Chi-Rho Christogram was added to the flag by the Emperor Constantine I in the late Roman period. Therefore Christogram and labarum were not originally synonyms.
The most commonly encountered Christogram in English-speaking countries in modern times is the X (or more accurately, Greek letter chi) in the abbreviation Xmas (for "Christmas"), which represents the first letter of the word Christ.
- Christian symbolism
- Holy Name of Jesus
- Little Sachet
- Names and titles of Jesus
- Nomina sacra
- The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories by Merriam-Webster, Inc. 1991 ISBN 0-87779-603-3 page 107
- Symbols of the Christian faith by Alva William Steffler 2002 ISBN 0-8028-4676-9 page 67
- Christian sacrament and devotion by Servus Gieben 1997 ISBN 90-04-06247-5 page 18
- The Continuum encyclopedia of symbols by Udo Becker 2000 ISBN 0-8264-1221-1 page 54
- Catholic encyclopedia: Holy Name of Jesus
- "IHS". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.
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