symbols and their Meaning
symbolism invests objects or
actions with an inner meaning expressing Christian ideas. Christianity
has borrowed from the common stock of significant symbols known to most
periods and to all regions of the world. Religious symbolism is
effective when it appeals to both the intellect and the emotions. The
choice of suitable acts and objects for symbolism is narrow enough that
it would not be easy to avoid the appearance of an imitation of other
traditions, even if there had been a deliberate attempt to invent an
entirely new ritual.
Elemental symbols were widely used by
the early Church. Water has specific symbolic significance for
Christians. Outside of baptism, water may represent cleansing or
purity. Fire, especially in the form of a candle flame, represents both
the Holy Spirit and light. The sources of these symbols derive from the
Bible; for example from the tongues of fire that symbolized the Holy
Spirit at Pentecost, and from Jesus' description of his followers as
the light of the world; or God is a consuming fire found in Hebrews 12.
The cross, which is today one of the most widely recognised symbols in
the world, was used as a symbol from the earliest times.
Among the symbols employed by the early
Christians, that of the fish seems to have ranked first in importance.
Indeed, from monumental sources such as tombs we know that the symbolic
fish was familiar to Christians from the earliest times. It can be seen
in such Roman monuments as the Capella Greca and the Sacrament Chapels
of the catacomb of St Callistus. The fish was depicted as a Christian
symbol in the first decades of the 2nd century.
Ancient people believed that the flesh
of a peafowl did not decay after death, and it so became a symbol of
immortality. This symbolism was adopted by early Christianity, and thus
many early Christian paintings and mosaics show the peacock. The
peacock is still used in the Easter season especially in the east.
are some of the most popular
Chi Rho is one of the
cruciform symbols used by Christians. It is formed by superimposing the
first two letters of the word "Christ" in Greek, chi = ch and rho = r.
Although not technically a cross, the Chi Rho invokes the crucifixion
of Jesus as well as symbolizing his status as the Christ. The earliest
evidence of the Chi Rho symbol is Constantine's use of it on the
labarum, the imperial standard, in the early 4th century CE.
Lactantius, a 4th century Christian apologist, reports that on the eve
of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 CE, Constantine had a vision
of God in which he was commanded to mark his men's shields with the Chi
Rho symbol. After Constantine's success at the Milvian bridge, the Chi
Rho became the official imperial insignia. Archaeologists have
uncovered evidence demonstrating that the Chi Rho was emblazoned on the
helmet and shield of Constantine as well as those of all of his
soldiers. Coins and medallions minted during Constantine's reign also
bore the Chi Rho. By the year 350 CE, the Chi Rho began to be used on
Christian sarcophagi and frescoes. [A.E.M.]
philosopher A.N. Whitehead said
that real symbols have the power to change history. The history of the
chalice symbol is significant. It began by representing the religious
courage of Jan Hus, a 15th century Czech priest, who was martyred for
offering communion to his congregants in defiance of the Roman church,
which reserved the sharing of wine to priests only. He was burnt at the
stake for this act, and Unitarians too have a history of being
persecuted for innovative and democratic deeds in religion.
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the Artist - David
Weiztman and Ka
(ikh-thoos) or ichthys is the Greek word simply
The Greek spelling for ichthus is -- Iota, Chi, Theta, Upsilon, and
Sigma. The English translation is IXOYE. The five Greek letters stand
for the words meaning, “Jesus Christ, Son of God,
Savior.” The Greek
rendering is, “Iesous Christos, Theou Uios, Soter”.
This symbol was used primarily amongst Christians of the early church
years (1st and 2nd century A.D.) The symbol was introduced from
Alexandria, Egypt; which at the time, was a very heavily populated
seaport. It was the port in which many goods were brought over from the
European continent. Because of this, it was first used by the peoples
of the sea as a symbol of a familiar deity, in this case, Jesus Christ.
his commission at the foot of the San Damiano
Cross, Saint Francis chose a more ancient symbol of redemption as his
standard: the Tau cross.
In commenting on the scriptures of Israel, the early Christian writers
used its Greek translation, the Septuagint, in which the last letter of
the Hebrew alphabet, the tau, was transcribed as a
“T” in Greek.
Prefigured in the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, then, the
stylized Tau cross came to represent the means by which Christ reversed
the disobedience of the old Adam and became our Savior as the
Latin Cross, also know as
Protestant Cross and Western Cross Latin cross.
The Latin cross (crux ordinaria) is a symbol of Christianity even
though it was used as a pagan symbol for millennia before the
foundation of the Christian Church.
It has been found in China and Africa. It appears on Scandinavian
Bronze Age stones depicting the hammer of Thor, their god of thunder
and war. It was regarded as a magical symbol. It brought good luck and
diverted evil. Some people interpret rock carvings of the cross as a
solar symbol, or a symbol of Earth with its points representing north,
south, east, and west. Others say it represents the human form.
symbol of Christ as
the Paschal Lamb and also a symbol
for Christians (as Christ is our Shepherd and Peter was told to feed
His sheep). The lamb is also a symbol for St. Agnes (Feast Day 21
January), virgin martyr of the early Church.
symbol of the Holy Ghost and used especially in representations of our
Lord's Baptism and the Pentecost. It also symbolizes the release of the
soul in death, and is used to recall Noah's dove, a harbinger of hope.
the Holy Faith, Our Lady,
martyrdom, the secrecy of penance. Five roses grouped together
symbolize the 5 Wounds of Christ.
found in the first century cemetery of St. Domitilla, the second and
third century epitaphs of the catacombs, and especially in the oldest
parts of the cemeteries of Sts. Priscilla (about 70 examples in this
cemetery alone), Domitilla, Calixtus, and the Coemetarium majus. See
Cross: also called the
"Crusaders' Cross," it is made up of 5 Greek
Crosses which are said to symbolize a) the 5 Wounds of Christ; and/or
b) the 4 Gospels and the 4 corners of the earth (the 4 smaller crosses)
and Christ Himself (the large Cross). This Cross was a common symbol
used during the wars against Islamic aggression.
Cross: consisting of the Greek
Cross with the Greek letter "X", the
first initial of the title "Christ," this Cross is a symbol of
regeneration, hence, its association with Baptism
Cross: because when Peter
be martyred he chose to be crucified upside-down out of respect for
Christ, the upside-down Latin Cross has become his symbol and, thereby,
a symbol of the papacy. Sadly, this cross has been co-opted by
Satanists whose purpose of "inverting" Christianity (e.g. as in their
Black 'Masses') is expressed by taking the Latin Cross of Christ and
especially in the form of a
candle flame, represents both the Holy Spirit and light.
Christian cross, seen as a representation of the instrument of the
crucifixion of Jesus Christ, is the best-known religious symbol of
Christianity. It is related to the crucifix (a cross that includes a
usually three-dimensional representation of Jesus' body) and to the
more general family of cross symbols.
cross-shaped sign, represented in its simplest form by a crossing of
two lines at right angles, greatly antedates, in both East and West,
the introduction of Christianity. It goes back to a very remote period
of human civilization. It is supposed to have been used not just for
its ornamental value, but also with religious significance.
The Christian Cross comes in many different forms. Here are a few of
the different forms of the Christian Cross.
Crucifix - cross
a representation of Jesus' body hanging from it. It is primarily used
in Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Eastern Orthodox churches (where
the figure is painted), and it emphasizes Christ's sacrifice - his
death by crucifixion.
double cross, with the two crossbars near the top. The upper one is
shorter, representing the plaque nailed to Jesus' cross.
heraldic cross is made from four Latin Crosses arranged at right-angles
to each other, with their tops pointing north, south, east and west,
traditionally thought to represent the message of the cross going out
to the four corners of the earth. The Cross crosslet, like the
Jerusalem Cross, is a symbol for world evangelism of the Gospels, which
gives an alternative name: Mission Cross. Another common interpretation
is that it represents the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and
Borromean Rings represent the
There are many symbols of the trinity in Christianity. The Borromean
Rings are three interlocking circles that symbolize the Christian
trinity. The word "trinity" comes from the Latin noun "trinitas"
meaning "three are one." The trinity represents the belief that God is
one Being made up of three distinct Persons who exist in co-equal,
co-eternal communion as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
of David - The Star of David
is a six-pointed star formed by two interlocking triangles, one
pointing up, one pointing down. It is named after King David and
appears on the flag of Israel. While predominately recognized as a
symbol of Judaism and Israel, many Christians identify with the Star of
David as well.
The five-pointed star is also a symbol of Christianity associated with
the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
and Wine - The bread and
wine represent the body and blood of Christ. Often times people
associate drinking wine or eating bread with being holy or doing
something akin with God or Jesus.
Bible - The Holy Bible is the
Word of God.
Christian circle represents eternity