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This symbol is often seen emblazoned on crosses. Often the letters are overlaid on each other, which, curiously, looks a lot like a dollar sign. Popular belief says that IHS (or sometimes IHC) is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase in hoc signo, which is a shortened version of a banner with the words in hoc signo vinces (in this sign you will conquer), seen in a vision by the Emperor Constantine before he went into battlea good story, but not the origin of IHS. Another puts the origin as an abbreviation of the Latin phrase Iesus Hominum Salvator (Jesus, Savior of Men) another good story, but also not the origin. In fact, the origin is rather pedestrian. IHS, or IHC (derived from the lowercase Greek letters for iota, eta and sigma), is an abbreviation of Jesus’s name in Greek: Ihsus, Ihsoys, or Ihcuc.

This is an ancient monogram of Greek letters signifying Jesus Christ Conquers. Usually the letters are broken into four parts and arranged around the center of a cross. The letters IC are the first and last letters of the Greek spelling of Jesus (Ihcuc), XC are the first and last letters of Christ (Xpictoc).

PAX

Pax is simply the Latin word for peace. Despite the short length of the word, it is sometimes abbreviated to PX.

PAX, Pere-Lachaise

The four evangelists who wrote the respective GospelsMatthew, Mark, Luke and Johnall have winged attributes. When you see a depiction of a flying cow or an aeronautical lion in the cemetery, it’s not the musings of a whimsical artist but the symbol of a saint. Usually all four of the fluttering creatures appear together: an ox, a lion, an eagle, and an angel.

It’s hard to think of a symbol more closely associated with a religion than the cross is with Christianity. But the use of the cross as a symbol predates its association with Christianity by thousands of years. In fact, the cross may be humankind’s oldest symbol. In its simplest form of two intersecting lines of the same length, it makes an X, as in X marks the spot. The circle, the X-shaped cross, and the cross that looks like a plus (+) sign are used by all cultures. The ancient + cross took on many meanings among pagan cultures, most notably as a symbol signifying the division between Heaven and Earth. This + cross was eventually adopted by Christians and is now known as the Greek cross.

But long before Christians utilized the cross as their supreme symbol, other cultures were employing it and modifying it to fit with their cultures. The ancient Druids were known to cut off all the branches of a giant oak tree except for two branches on either side of the trunk, thus forming a huge natural cross. Other cultures took the basic cross form and added to it. One of the earliest modifications of the + cross was by Eastern civilizations who added arms to the end of the cross to form a swastika, or fylfot, cross. The original swastika cross was a symbol of good fortune and has decorated ancient pottery, jewelry and coins. It also became a power symbol among ancient fire-worshiping Aryan tribes because the arms of the swastika resembled the sticks with handles that the tribal members rubbed together to make fire. Its various forms often represented the highest attainment possible, and it was used to represent both spiritual and worldly pursuits. Unfortunately, the swastika was also used by power-hungry rulers such as Charlemagne and Hitler, and is now associated with evil.

It’s quite amazing that any form of the cross was adopted by Christians as their prime symbol, since crosses had been used for centuries to punish and persecute Christians as well as common criminals. In early Christian literature, the cross on which Christ was crucified is referred to as the accursed tree. Nevertheless, the story goes that around the year A.D. 320, the Roman Emperor Constantine couldn’t make up his mind whether he should continue practicing paganism, which had served his predecessors well, or embrace Christianity, which many of the Roman citizenry (including his own mother) was either following or exploring. The situation at hand for Constantine was a huge battle he was about to engage in with Maxentius, who was apparently enlisting the aid of supernatural and magic forces; so Constantine decided to pray to the God of the Christians to help him defeat his foe. During a midnight prayer, Constantine gazed toward the heavens and saw a grouping of stars that looked like a huge, glowing, luminous cross. After he fell asleep, Constantine had a dream in which he saw Christ holding the same symbol and instructing Constantine to affix it to his standards. What Constantine probably saw was an intersection of the two letters X and P, which was a popular symbol used by the Christians and known as a Chi-Rho, or Labarum, cross. The Chi-Rho represents the first two letters of XPIETOE (Christos) in Greek. In short order, Constantine had the emblem applied to all of his standards and banners, and placed upon the altars of the church. Thus began the use of the cross as a Christian symbol. Although the Chi-Rho cross is seldom seen in modern times, it’s basic meaning has been preserved in the abbreviated form of the word for Christmas: Xmas.

Although there are dozens of types of crosses in cemeteries and thousands of types of religious crosses, there are basically three types that others evolved from: the Greek cross, which looks like a + sign; the Latin cross, which looks like the letter t; and the Celtic cross, which has a circle (known as a nimbus) connecting the four arms of the cross.

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