Chi Rho
The Chi Rho is one of the earliest forms of christogram
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. Different types of Christograms are associated with the various traditions of Christianity, e.g...

, and is used by Christians. It is formed by superimposing the first two (capital) letters chi
Chi (letter)
Chi is the 22nd letter of the Greek alphabet, pronounced as in English.-Greek:-Ancient Greek:Its value in Ancient Greek was an aspirated velar stop .-Koine Greek:...

 and rho
Rho (letter)
Rho is the 17th letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals, it has a value of 100. It is derived from Semitic resh "head"...

 (ΧΡ) of the Greek word "ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ" =Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

in such a way to produce the monogram
A monogram is a motif made by overlapping or combining two or more letters or other graphemes to form one symbol. Monograms are often made by combining the initials of an individual or a company, used as recognizable symbols or logos. A series of uncombined initials is properly referred to as a...

 . Although not technically a cross, the Chi Rho invokes the crucifixion of Jesus as well as symbolizing his status as the Christ.

The Chi-Rho symbol was also used by pagan Greek scribes to mark, in the margin, a particularly valuable or relevant passage; the combined letters Chi and Rho standing for chrēston, meaning "good." Some coins of Ptolemy III Euergetes
Ptolemy III Euergetes
-Family:Euergetes was the eldest son of Ptolemy II Philadelphus and his first wife, Arsinoe I, and came to power in 246 BC upon the death of his father.He married Berenice of Cyrene in the year corresponding to 244/243 BC; and their children were:...

 were marked with a Chi-Rho.

Christian accounts of Constantine's adoption of the Chi-Rho

According to Lactantius
Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius was an early Christian author who became an advisor to the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine I, guiding his religious policy as it developed, and tutor to his son.-Biography:...

, a Latin historian of North African origins saved from poverty by the patronage of Constantine I as tutor to his son Crispus
Flavius Julius Crispus , also known as Flavius Claudius Crispus and Flavius Valerius Crispus, was a Caesar of the Roman Empire. He was the first-born son of Constantine I and Minervina.-Birth:...

, Constantine had dreamt of being ordered to put a "heavenly divine symbol" on the shields of his soldiers. The description of the actual symbol chosen by Constantine the next morning, as reported by Lactantius, is not very clear: it closely resembles a Chi Rho or a staurogram, a similar Christian symbol. That very day Constantine's army fought the forces of Maxentius
Maxentius was a Roman Emperor from 306 to 312. He was the son of former Emperor Maximian, and the son-in-law of Emperor Galerius.-Birth and early life:Maxentius' exact date of birth is unknown; it was probably around 278...

 and won the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (312), outside Rome.

Writing in Greek, Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea also called Eusebius Pamphili, was a Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine about the year 314. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon...

 (died in 339), the bishop who wrote the first surviving general history of the early Christian churches, gave two different accounts of the events. In his church history, written shortly after the battle, when Eusebius didn't yet have any contact with Constantine, he doesn't mention any dream or vision, but compares the defeat of Maxentius (drowned in the Tiber
The Tiber is the third-longest river in Italy, rising in the Apennine Mountains in Emilia-Romagna and flowing through Umbria and Lazio to the Tyrrhenian Sea. It drains a basin estimated at...

) to that of the biblical pharaoh
Pharaoh is a title used in many modern discussions of the ancient Egyptian rulers of all periods. The title originates in the term "pr-aa" which means "great house" and describes the royal palace...

 and credits Constantine's victory to divine protection.
In a memoir of the emperor that Eusebius wrote after Constantine's death (On the Life of Constantine), a miraculous appearance came in Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

 long before the Milvian Bridge battle. In this later version, the emperor had been pondering the misfortunes that befall commanders that invoke the help of many different gods, and decided to seek divine aid in the forthcoming battle from the One God. At noon Constantine saw a cross of light imposed over the sun. Attached to it, in Greek characters, was the saying "Τούτῳ Νίκα!". Not only Constantine, but the whole army saw the miracle. That night Christ appeared to the emperor in a dream and told him to make a replica of the sign he had seen in the sky, which would be a sure defence in battle.

Eusebius wrote in the Vita that Constantine himself had told him this story "and confirmed it with oaths," late in life "when I was deemed worthy of his acquaintance and company." "Indeed," says Eusebius, "had anyone else told this story, it would not have been easy to accept it."

Eusebius also left a description of the labarum
The labarum was a vexillum that displayed the "Chi-Rho" symbol ☧, formed from the first two Greek letters of the word "Christ" — Chi and Rho . It was used by the Roman emperor Constantine I...

, the military standard which incorporated the Chi-Rho sign, used by Constantine in his later wars against Licinius.

Modern interpretations of Constantine's vision

Sometimes called the labarum, the Chi-Rho symbol was used as military symbol under Roman emperor Constantine.

There are modern astronomical and astrological theories that defend Eusebius' account as possible. In 1948 Fritz Heiland, of the Zeiss planetarium at Jena, published his astronomical interpretation of Constantine's vision, that the fall of the year 312 was attended by an unusual spectacle: the syzygy
Syzygy (astronomy)
In astronomy, a syzygy is a straight line configuration of three celestial bodies in a gravitational system. The word is usually used in reference to the Sun, the Earth and either the Moon or a planet, where the latter is in conjunction or opposition. Solar and lunar eclipses occur at times of...

 or close alignment of three bright planets, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter, in the evening sky above the southwest horizon, positioned along a line within about 20 degrees of each other on the border of Capricorn and Sagittarius.

The Swedish geologist Jens Ormo and co-authors suggest that the account may have had its origins in Constantine's witnessing the daylight effects of a meteorite
A meteorite is a natural object originating in outer space that survives impact with the Earth's surface. Meteorites can be big or small. Most meteorites derive from small astronomical objects called meteoroids, but they are also sometimes produced by impacts of asteroids...

's descent through earth's atmosphere, of which the impact he believes resulted in the Sirente crater
Sirente crater
The Sirente crater is a small shallow seasonal lake in Abruzzo, central Italy. The lake is located at the center of the Prati del Sirente, a mountainous highland north of the Sirente massif in the Apennines, 13 kilometres from the small village of Secinaro. In the late 1990s, the peculiar...

 situated in Sirente-Velino Regional Park, Abruzzo
Abruzzo is a region in Italy, its western border lying less than due east of Rome. Abruzzo borders the region of Marche to the north, Lazio to the west and south-west, Molise to the south-east, and the Adriatic Sea to the east...

, Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

Celestial chi

Although modern representations of the Chi-Rho sign represent the two lines crossing at ninety degree angles, the early examples of the Chi-Rho cross at an angle that is more vividly representative of the chi formed by the solar ecliptic path
The ecliptic is the plane of the earth's orbit around the sun. In more accurate terms, it is the intersection of the celestial sphere with the ecliptic plane, which is the geometric plane containing the mean orbit of the Earth around the Sun...

 and the celestial equator
Celestial equator
The celestial equator is a great circle on the imaginary celestial sphere, in the same plane as the Earth's equator. In other words, it is a projection of the terrestrial equator out into space...

. This image is most familiar in Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

's Timaeus
Timaeus (dialogue)
Timaeus is one of Plato's dialogues, mostly in the form of a long monologue given by the title character, written circa 360 BC. The work puts forward speculation on the nature of the physical world and human beings. It is followed by the dialogue Critias.Speakers of the dialogue are Socrates,...

, where it is explained that the two bands which form the "world soul" (anima mundi
Anima Mundi
Anima mundī is Latin meaning "the soul of the world" which can refer to:*Anima mundi, the soul of the world*Anima Mundi , a 1991 documentary film directed by Godfrey Reggio*Anima Mundi , a Brazilian video and film festival...

) cross each other like the letter chi. Not only did the two legs of the chi remind early Christians of the Cross, "it reminded them of the mystery of the pre-existent Christ, the Logos Theou, the Word of God, who extended himself through all things in order to establish peace and harmony in the universe," in Robert Grigg's words. Hugo Rahner summarized the significance:

Later usage

The use of a wreath around the Chi Rho symbolizes the victory of the Resurrection
Resurrection of Jesus
The Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus states that Jesus returned to bodily life on the third day following his death by crucifixion. It is a key element of Christian faith and theology and part of the Nicene Creed: "On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures"...

 over death, and is an early visual representation of the connection between the Crucifixion of Jesus
Crucifixion of Jesus
The crucifixion of Jesus and his ensuing death is an event that occurred during the 1st century AD. Jesus, who Christians believe is the Son of God as well as the Messiah, was arrested, tried, and sentenced by Pontius Pilate to be scourged, and finally executed on a cross...

 and his triumphal resurrection, as seen in the fourth century sarcophagus of Domitilla in Rome. Here, in the wreathed Chi Rho the death and resurrection of Christ are shown as inseparable, and the Resurrection is not merely a happy ending tucked at the end of the life of Christ on earth. Given the use of similar symbols on the Roman standard, this depiction also conveyed another victory, namely that of the Christian faith: the Roman soldiers who had once arrested Jesus and marched him to Calvary
Calvary or Golgotha was the site, outside of ancient Jerusalem’s early first century walls, at which the crucifixion of Jesus is said to have occurred. Calvary and Golgotha are the English names for the site used in Western Christianity...

 now walked under the banner of a resurrected Christ.

After Constantine the Chi-Rho became part of the official imperial insignia. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence demonstrating that the Chi Rho was emblazoned on the helmets of some Late Roman soldiers. Coins and medallions minted during Constantine's reign also bore the Chi Rho. By the year 350, the Chi Rho began to be used on Christian sarcophagi
A sarcophagus is a funeral receptacle for a corpse, most commonly carved or cut from stone. The word "sarcophagus" comes from the Greek σαρξ sarx meaning "flesh", and φαγειν phagein meaning "to eat", hence sarkophagus means "flesh-eating"; from the phrase lithos sarkophagos...

 and fresco
Fresco is any of several related mural painting types, executed on plaster on walls or ceilings. The word fresco comes from the Greek word affresca which derives from the Latin word for "fresh". Frescoes first developed in the ancient world and continued to be popular through the Renaissance...

es. [A.E.M.] The usurper Magnentius
Flavius Magnus Magnentius was a usurper of the Roman Empire .-Early life and career:...

 appears to have been the first to use the Chi-Rho monogram flanked by Alpha and Omega, on the reverse of some coins minted in 353. In Roman Britannia, a tesselated mosaic pavement was uncovered at Hinton St Mary
Hinton St Mary Mosaic
The Hinton St Mary Mosaic is a large, almost complete Roman mosaic discovered at Hinton St Mary in the English county of Dorset. It appears to feature a portrait bust of Jesus Christ as its central motif...

, Dorset, in 1963:. On stylistic grounds it is dated to the fourth century; its central roundel represents a beardless male head and bust draped in a pallium
The pallium is an ecclesiastical vestment in the Roman Catholic Church, originally peculiar to the Pope, but for many centuries bestowed by him on metropolitans and primates as a symbol of the jurisdiction delegated to them by the Holy See. In that context it has always remained unambiguously...

in front of the Chi-Rho symbol, flanked by pomegranate
The pomegranate , Punica granatum, is a fruit-bearing deciduous shrub or small tree growing between five and eight meters tall.Native to the area of modern day Iran, the pomegranate has been cultivated in the Caucasus since ancient times. From there it spread to Asian areas such as the Caucasus as...

s, symbols of eternal life. Another Romano-British Chi-Rho, in fresco, was found at the site of a villa at Lullingstone
Lullingstone Roman villa
Lullingstone Roman Villa is a villa built during the Roman occupation of Britain, situated near the village of Eynsford in Kent, south eastern England....

 (illustrated). The symbol was also found on Late Roman Christian signet rings in Britain.

See also

  • Chi Rho (disambiguation)
    Chi Rho (disambiguation)
    Chi Rho are the first two letters in the Greek spelling of the word Christ , and so have come to be used for a number of usages....

  • Christogram
    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. Different types of Christograms are associated with the various traditions of Christianity, e.g...

  • Chrismon
    A chrismon is one of number of Christian symbols intended to represent aspects of the Person, life or ministry of Jesus Christ and the life, ministry or history of the Church through a single image, emblem or monogram. The term "chrismon" comes from the Latin phrase "Christi Monogramma", meaning...

  • Labarum
    The labarum was a vexillum that displayed the "Chi-Rho" symbol ☧, formed from the first two Greek letters of the word "Christ" — Chi and Rho . It was used by the Roman emperor Constantine I...

  • Ichthys
    Ichthys, from Koine Greek: , is the Greek word for "fish"....

  • Christian symbolism
    Christian symbolism
    Christian 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...

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