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"Chrismon" redirects here. For the German Lutheran magazine entitled "Chrismon", see Chrismon (magazine).
4th-century Labarum or Chi-Rho symbol with Alpha and Omega
Mosaic of Christ Pantokrator with the Christogram ΙϹ ΧϹ on either side of Christ's head.
Detail of IX monogram on sarcophagus, Constantinople, c. 300.

A Christogram (from Greek Khristos, Christ + -gramma, letter or piece of writing)[1] is a monogram or combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ, traditionally used as a Christian symbol. Different types of Christograms are associated with the various traditions of Christianity, e.g. the IHS (also JHS, IHC, or ΙΗΣ) monogram representing the Holy Name of Jesus or ΙϹΧϹ representing "Jesus Christ".

Since early Christianity, the related term Chrismon (from Greek Khristos, Christ + -mon, one or single, from Late Latin monogramma, monogram)[1] has traditionally referred to any symbol or figure reminiscent of the name of Christ, by contrast with the basic Christogram consisting of plain letters typically implying the presence of some kind of calligraphic ornamentation.[2][3]

In the 20th century the term Chrismon also started to be used in a wider sense to refer to ornaments that are "symbols for Christ or some part of Christ's ministry"; these are often used during Advent and Christmas,[4] to decorate a Chrismon tree (or a Christmas tree), and include "the crow, descending down, fish, Celtic cross, Jerusalem cross, shepherd's crook, chalice, shell, and others".[5][6]

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 IX monogram is a similar form, using the first Greek letters in "Jesus Christ".

Eastern Christianity[edit]

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).[7]

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 where his fingers bend and cross to form the letters ΙϹ, Χ, and Ϲ.

Western Christianity[edit]

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, IHΣΟΥΣ, iota-eta-sigma, or ΙΗΣ.[8][9][10]

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, Saviour 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.[11] 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".

The Alpha and Omega symbols may at times accompany a Chrismon.[12] In the 4th century, during the reign of Constantine, the terms Chrismon and Christogram only referred to the Chi Rho symbol.[13][dubious ]

The most commonly encountered Christogram in English-speaking countries in modern times is the X (or more accurately, the Greek letter chi), representing the first letter of the word Christ, in such abbreviations as Xmas (for "Christmas") and Xian or Xtian (for "Christian").

Chrismon tree[edit]

A Chrismon tree in the nave of St. Alban's Anglican Cathedral in Oviedo

A Chrismon tree is an evergreen tree often found in the chancel or nave of a church during Advent and Christmastide[6][14] The Chrismon tree was first used by North American Lutherans in 1957,[15] although the practice has rapidly spread to other Christian denominations,[16] including Anglicans,[17] Catholics,[5] Methodists,[18] and the Reformed.[19] As with the Christmas tree,[20][21] the evergreen tree itself, for Christians, "symbolizes the eternal life Jesus Christ provides".[22] However, the Chrismon tree differs from the traditional Christmas tree in that it "is decorated only with clear lights and Chrismons made from white and gold material", the latter two being the liturgical colours of the Christmas season.[6][14] The Chrismon tree is adorned with Chrismons, "ancient symbols for Christ or some part of Christ's ministry: the crow, descending dove, fish, Celtic cross, Jerusalem cross, shepherd's crook, chalice, shell, and others."[6][23] Laurence Hull Stookey writes that "because many symbols of the Chrismon tree direct our attention to the nature and ultimate work of Christ, they can be helpful in calling attention to Advent themes."[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories by Merriam-Webster, Inc. 1991 ISBN 0-87779-603-3; page 107. At Google Books.
  2. ^ Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image Before the Era of Art by Hans Belting, Edmund Jephcott 1997 ISBN 0226042154 pages 107-109
  3. ^ Ersch et al., Volume 1, Issue 29 of Allgemeine Encyklopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste, 1837, p. 303 (German).
  4. ^ Catholic Traditions in Crafts by Ann Ball 1997 ISBN 0879737115 page 17
  5. ^ a b Glavich, Mary Kathleen (2010). Leading Young Catholics Into Scripture. Twenty-Third Publications. p. 36. ISBN 9781585958009. A parallel Advent activity is the more recent custom of making a Chrismon tree (Christ + monogram). The Chrismon tree bears symbols of Jesus from the New Testament. While the children hang their symbols, related Scripture texts might be read. Possible figures for the Chrismon tree are Mary, Joseph, the star, manger, shepherd, angel, sheep, three kings, gifts, fish, dove, grapes, wheat, vine, crown, rock, alpha and omega symbols, Chi-Rho, anchor, and cross. The symbols are usually white and gold. 
  6. ^ a b c d Weaver, Jr., J. Dudley (2002). Presbyterian Worship: A Guide for Clergy. Geneva Press. p. 79. ISBN 9780664502188. Many congregations have begun the tradition of using a Chrismon tree in the sanctuary as part of the Advent and Christmas celebration. It is important, especially for children, that the distinction between this tree and the family Christmas tree be clearly made. The Chrismon tree is decorated only with clear lights and Chrismons made from white and gold material. White, the color of Christmas, is the color of purity and perfection, while gold is the color for majesty and glory. The Chrismons are ancient symbols for Christ or some part of Christ's ministry: the crow, descending dove, fish, Celtic cross, Jerusalem cross, shepherd's crook, chalice, shell, and others. 
  7. ^ Symbols of the Christian faith by Alva William Steffler 2002 ISBN 0-8028-4676-9 page 67
  8. ^ Christian sacrament and devotion by Servus Gieben 1997 ISBN 90-04-06247-5 page 18
  9. ^ The Continuum encyclopedia of symbols by Udo Becker 2000 ISBN 0-8264-1221-1 page 54
  10. ^ Catholic encyclopedia: Holy Name of Jesus
  11. ^ "IHS". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  12. ^ Allegory of the Church by Calvin Kendall 1998 ISBN 1442613092 page 137
  13. ^ The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine by Noel Lenski 2012 ISBN 110760110X page 71
  14. ^ a b Segler, Franklin M.; Bradley, Randall (1 October 2006). Christian Worship: Its Theology and Practice, Third Edition. B&H Publishing Group. p. 222. A Chrismon tree is an evergreen tree adorned with symbols of Christ. The symbols are white and gold, and the three has white lights. 
  15. ^ Morris-Pierce, Elizabeth; Berger, Stephen A.; Dreher, Eulonda A.; Russel W. Dalton; D. Andrew Richardson; Jeanne Mueller; Judith Hale Wood; Ellen Edgar; James Edgar (1 January 2002). In Search of Christmas. CSS Publishing. p. 27. ISBN 9780788019166. Chrismons were first used in 1957 to decorate a Christmas tree in the Lutheran Church of the Ascension in Danville, Virginia. 
  16. ^ Crump, William D. (15 September 2001). The Christmas Encyclopedia, 3d ed. McFarland. p. 71. ISBN 9780786468270. Over time, the popularity of the Chrismons tree grew and spread to other denominations around the world, while Chrismons themselves have become meaningful decorations throughout the year. 
  17. ^ "Chrismon Tree". St. John's Anglican Church. Retrieved 4 December 2014. A number of ladies of St. John's have been hard at work producing beautiful Chrismons (Christian Monograms) out of wire and beads to decorate a "Chrismon Tree" that will be put up and dedicated on the First Sunday in Advent 
  18. ^ First United Methodist Church, Midland, Texas: Offering Christ, 1885-1985: One Hundred Years on Main Street in Downtown Midland. Taylor Publishing Company. 1985. The idea for a Chrismon Tree for First Methodist originated and was sponsored by the Boone Bible Class. 
  19. ^ "Advent & Christmas at BRC". Brunswick Reformed Church. Retrieved 4 December 2014. The Chrismon Tree has become a tradition in an increasing number of Christian churches. Chrismons are symbols, a combination of two words, CHRIST and Monogram, meaning a monogram of Christ. Extending back to days when, because of illiteracy, symbols had to be used to communicate the key ideas in our faith. Click on the link below to find explained the meaning of the Chrismons which decorate our tree at BRC. These Chrismons were made by the women of BRC several years ago. The evergreen tree, a symbol for eternal life, is a background for the tiny white lights and basic gold and white Chrismons. The lights remind us of Him - Jesus - who is the light of the world. The traditional liturgical colors of gold and white symbolize: gold - the glory, and the majesty of God; white - the innocence, purity and perfection of our Savior. It is our hope that the Chrismon Tree will light up your Advent/Christmas season by helping you to more fully enter into the meaning and understanding of the unique Son of God as God's greatest gift to man. 
  20. ^ CTL Catechetical Resource Book 1. Celebrating the Lectionary. Liturgy Training Publications. p. 10. ISBN 9781568547077. Christmas tree: The tree is an evergreen symbol of everlasting life living forever with God. This is the good news that Jesus' death and Resurrection proclaimed to all humanity. 
  21. ^ Wamsley, Denise (2010). The Christmas Experiment. Cedar Fort. p. 139. ISBN 9781599557687. Christmas Tree: The color of the evergreen ("ever green") tree still vibrant in the dead of winter, can symbolize the eternal life Jesus Christ provides, which enables us to overcome death. 
  22. ^ Stringer, Nancy (1980). Programs for adventure and Christmas. Hung on an evergreen tree, they make a Chrismon tree. The evergreen tree symbolizes the eternal life. 
  23. ^ Stookey, Laurence Hull (1 December 2011). Calendar: Christ's Time for the Church. Abingdon Press. p. 107. ISBN 9781426728044. Beyond that the term "Chrismon" is used loosely to refer to symbols related to Christ, including the orb, crown, fish, star, anchor, and a wide variety of forms on the cross. All of these, often made in materials of gold and white, are used on a pine or fir tree in place of the more usual multicolored ornaments used on trees at home. Lights are also usually of clear glass rather than being colored. 
  24. ^ Stookey, Laurence Hull (1 December 2011). Calendar: Christ's Time for the Church. Abingdon Press. p. 107. ISBN 9781426728044. 

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