Chi-Rho symbol with Alpha and Omega on a 4th-century sarcophagus (Vatican Museums)
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 (Latin Monogramma Christi[1] ) is a monogram or combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ, traditionally used as a religious symbol within the Christian Church.

One of the oldest Christograms is the Chi-Rho. It consists of the superimposed Greek letters chi (Χ) and rho (Ρ), which are the first two letters of Greek χριστός "Christ". It was displayed on the labarum military standard used by Constantine I in AD 312. The IX monogram () is a similar form, using the initials of the name Ἰησοῦς (ὁ) Χριστός "Jesus (the) Christ", as is the ΙΗ monogram (), using the first two letters of the name Ἰησοῦς "Jesus".

There were a considerable number of variants of "Christograms" or monograms of Christ in use during the medieval period, with the boundary between specific monograms and mere scribal abbreviations somewhat fluid.

The name Jesus, spelt "ΙΗΣΥΣ" in Greek capitals, has the abbreviations IHS (also written JHS, IHC, or ΙΗΣ), the name Christus , spelt "ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ", has XP (and inflectional variants such as XPO, XPS, XPI, XPO, XPM). In Eastern Christian tradition, the monogram ΙϹΧϹ (with titlo indicating scribal abbreviation) is used for in both Greek and Cyrillic tradition.

A Middle Latin term for abbreviations of the name of Christ is chrisimus.[2] Similarly, Middle Latin crismon, chrismon refers to the Chi Rho monogram specifically.[3]

Chi (X)

Further information: Chi (letter)

In antiquity, the cross, i.e. the instrument of Christ's crucifixion (crux, stauros) was taken to be T-shaped, while the X-shape ("chiasmus") had different connotations. There has been a lot of scholarly speculation on the development of the Christian cross, the letter Chi used to abbreviate the name of Christ, and the various pre-Christian symbolism associated with the chiasmus interpreted in terms of "the mystery of the pre-existent Christ".[4]

In Plato's Timaeus, it is explained that the two bands which form the "world soul" (anima mundi) cross each other like the letter chi, possibly referring to the ecliptic crossing the celestial equator.[5] Justin Martyr in the 2nd century makes explicit reference to Plato's image in Timaeus in terms of a prefiguration of the Holy Cross.[6] and an early testimony may be the phrase in Didache, "sign of extension in heaven" (sēmeion epektaseōs en ouranōi).[4]

An alternate explanation of the intersecting celestial symbol has been advanced by George Latura, claiming that Plato's visible god in Timaeus is in fact the intersection of the Milky Way and the Zodiacal Light, a rare apparition important to pagan beliefs that Christian bishops reinvented as a Christian symbol.[7]

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").

Chi Rho (XP)

Main article: Chi Rho
A Chi Rho combined with Alpha and Omega, in 1669 labelled Chrismon Sancti Ambrosii, Milan Cathedral.[8]

The Alpha and Omega symbols may at times accompany the Chi-Rho monogram.[9] Chrismon (chrismum; also chrismos, chrismus) since the 17th century has been used as a New Latin term for the Chi Rho monogram.

Because the chrismon was used as a kind of "invocation" at the beginning of documents of the Merovingian period, the term also came to be used of the "cross-signatures" in early medieval charters.[10] Chrismon in this context may refer to the Merovingian period abbreviation I. C. N. for in Christi nomine, later (in the Carolingian period) also I. C. for in Christo, and still later (in the high medieval period) just C. for Christus.[11]

St Cuthbert's coffin (late 7th century) has an exceptional realisation of the Christogram written in Anglo-Saxon runes, as ᛁᚻᛋ ᛉᛈᛋ, as it were "IHS XPS", with the chi rendered as the eolh rune (the old z or algiz rune) and the rho rendered as the p-rune.


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.[12][13][14]

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 "Jesus Hominum (or Hierosolymae) Salvator", ("Jesus, Saviour of men [or: of Jerusalem]" in Latin)[15] 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.[16] In the 15th century, 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). The IHS monogram with the H surmounted by a cross above three nails and surrounded by a Sun is the emblem of the Jesuits, according to tradition introduced by Ignatius of Loyola in 1541.[15] English-language interpretations of "IHS" have included "I Have Suffered" or "In His Service", or jocularly and facetiously "Jesus H. Christ" (19th century).


In Eastern Christianity, the most widely used Christogram is a four-letter abbreviation, ΙϹ ΧϹ — a traditional abbreviation of the Greek words for "Jesus Christ" (i.e., the first and last letters of each of the words "ΙΗϹΟΥϹ ΧΡΙϹΤΟϹ, with the lunate sigma "Ϲ" common in medieval Greek),[17] and written with titlo (diacritic) denoting scribal abbreviation (І҃С Х҃С).

On icons, this Christogram may be split: "ΙϹ" on the left of the image and "ΧϹ" on the right. It is sometimes rendered as "ΙϹ ΧϹ 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.

See also


  1. The portmanteau of Christo- and -gramma is modern, first introduced in German as Christogramm in the mid-19th century. Adoption into English as Christogram dates to c. 1900.
  2. Chrisimus (par les Bénédictins de St. Maur, 1733–1736), in: du Cange, et al., Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis, ed. augm., Niort : L. Favre, 1883‑1887, t. 2, col. 317b. "CHRISIMUS, Nomen Christi abbreviatum in antiquis instrumentis secundum diversos casus sic XPS. XPI. XPO. XPM. ubi media littera P. Græcum. Vox Chrisimus legitur in Annal. Benedict. tom. 5. pag. 7."
  3. Crismon (par les Bénédictins de St. Maur, 1733–1736), in: du Cange, et al., Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis, ed. augm., Niort : L. Favre, 1883‑1887, t. 2, col. 621b. "CRISMON, Nota quæ in libro ex voluntate uniuscujusque ad aliquid notandum ponitur. Papias in MS. Bituric. Crismon vel Chrismon proprie est Monogramma Christi sic expressum ☧" 1 chrismon (par les Bénédictins de St. Maur, 1733–1736), in: du Cange, et al., Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis, ed. augm., Niort : L. Favre, 1883‑1887, t. 2, col. 318c, citing Heumann. de re Diplom. inde a Carol. M. § 12; Murator. Antiquit. Ital. tom. 3. col. 75.
  4. 1 2 Grigg, Robert (December 1977). ""Symphōnian Aeidō tēs Basileias": An Image of Imperial Harmony on the Base of the Column of Arcadius". The Art Bulletin. 59 (4): 477; 469–482. doi:10.2307/3049702..
  5. Plato. Timaeus, 8.36b and 8.36c: "And thus the whole mixture out of which he cut these portions was all exhausted by him. This entire compound divided lengthways into two parts, which he joined to one another at the centre like the letter X, and bent them into a circular form, connecting them with themselves and each other at the point opposite to their original meeting-point; and, comprehending them in a uniform revolution upon the same axis, he made the one the outer and the other the inner circle." "The two great circles of the heavens, the equator and the ecliptic, which, by intersecting each other form a sort of recumbent chi and about which the whole dome of the starry heavens swings in a wondrous rhythm, became for the Christian eye a heavenly cross." Rahner & Battershaw 1971, "Mystery of the Cross", pp. 49–50. See also Grigg (1977|:477)
  6. Justin. Apologia, 1.60.
  7. Latura 2012, pp. 880–886.
  8. The symbol was moved to storage for the refurbishments under Pellegrino Tibaldi and re-instated in the choir on 6 September 1669. ( Use of the name Chrismon is apparently based on the term crismon as used by Landulf of Milan (I.12). Landulf's mention of a crismon of Saint Ambrose clearly refers to chrism, i.e. holy oil, not a symbol. I. A. Ferrai, "I Fonti di Landolfo Seniore", Bullettino dell'Istituto storico italiano 14 (1895), p. 29.
  9. Allegory of the Church by Calvin Kendall 1998 ISBN 1442613092 page 137
  10. while in English literature of the 19th to mid 20th century, chrismon refers to the Chi Rho monogram exclusively, the German-language usage has also come to be adopted in some cases in the specific context of medieval sigla, especially in works translated from German into English, e.g. Hans Belting, Edmund Jephcott (trans.), Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image Before the Era of Art (1997), pp. 107-109. For German usage, see Ersch et al., Volume 1, Issue 29 of Allgemeine Encyklopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste, 1837, p. 303 (German). Johann Christoph Gatterer, Elementa artis diplomaticae universalis (1765), p. 145 ( Abriß der Diplomatik 1798, p. 64).
  11. Johann Christoph Gatterer, Abriß der Diplomatik (1798), p. 64f. Carl Ernst Bohn, Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek vol. 111 (1792), p. 521.
  12. Christian sacrament and devotion by Servus Gieben 1997 ISBN 90-04-06247-5 page 18
  13. The Continuum encyclopedia of symbols by Udo Becker 2000 ISBN 0-8264-1221-1 page 54
  14. Catholic encyclopedia: Holy Name of Jesus
  15. 1 2 Maere, René. "IHS." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.
  16. "IHS". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  17. Symbols of the Christian faith by Alva William Steffler 2002 ISBN 0-8028-4676-9 page 67
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