IC XC

This past weekend I was visiting a friend in Washington State and, at the church we visited, saw the following cross hanging above the altar:

Cross at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Yakima

…and this reminded me of something else which I came to understand through studying Greek that I had meant to share…


Okay Catholics, what does the lettering “IC XC” at the top of the cross mean?

The altar cross with “IC XC” lettering

As in my previous post, if you don’t know the answer to this, you are certainly not alone…

IC now what it means…

Like the “IHS”, the “IC XC” is a Christogram, a monogram of Jesus’ name. As we saw last time, “Jesus Christ”, when it is translated into Greek, looks like this:

ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ

If we take the first and last letters of ΙΗΣΟΥΣ (“Jesus”) and ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (“Christ”) we are left with:

ΙΣ ΧΣ

The sigma character (“Σ”) was often represented using a lunate sigma which looks like a “C”, thereby giving us:

IC XC

Finally, a line (“titlo”) is often placed over each pair of letters to indicate that it is an abbreviated sacred name. So there we go! “IC XC” is yet another shorthand for writing “Jesus Christ” in Greek.

IC XC, Jesus Christ

17 comments

  • Thank you for the explanation through symbols. Very important meaning to know this way of explanation

    • You’re welcome Rose 🙂

      • Μy understanding of Attica Greek is that ς is used at the end of a word, not σ or Σ, unless it is a title iεσoυσ χριστοσ. So the “c” naturally kept during the translation of the Greek text to Latin. ic xc..

        It is not a case that there´s no Σ (ιν λατιν) in Latin, but that c is used in Greek and recognised as a letter in Latin too. ( although a different “k” , not ” s ” sound)

        σ is used at the start od “s” words, Σ when it’s capitalised and ς when the end words in an “s” sound.. thus: ις χς

        • Hey Paul, welcome to Restless Pilgrim 🙂

          It sounds like you’re more experienced with Greek than I am, but I think we might have a few crossed wires here.

          > Μy understanding of Attica Greek is…

          The Greek used in the New Testament (and therefore in religious icons) is not Attic Greek, but Koine Greek.

          > …that ς is used at the end of a word, not σ or Σ, unless it is a title iεσoυσ χριστοσ

          Yes, and I believe that this is called a Lunate Sigma.

          Having said that, as an aside, we have archeological evidence of the capital sigma being used at the end of the Ichthys acronym.

          > So the “c” naturally kept during the translation of the Greek text to Latin. ic xc

          But it’s not being translated into Latin though (“Iesum Christum”). Or are you referring to the Latin alphabet?

          > It is not a case that there´s no Σ (ιν λατιν) in Latin, but that c is used in Greek and recognised as a letter in Latin too. ( although a different “k” , not ” s ” sound)

          While the character Σ isn’t present in the Latin alphabet, the sound certainly is and Greek words can be transliterated into Latin. Again this comes back to the Lunate Sigma.

          Are we on the same page?

  • It is wonderful experience for those who did not know. Jesus Christ belongs to all irrespective of their linguistic background. May be we should have some outfit like Google with its unlimited capabilities in design and translations, create this ICONIC MONOGRAM into all the major languages of the world!

    • Hey Kunnathu, welcome to Restless Pilgrim!

      It’s an interesting idea, to modify this christogram for each culture and language, but personally I think it’s far more wonderful for people to dig back into their Christian heritage and discover the history and treasures which can be found there. Besides, I think it’s safe to say that there will always be new expressions of the Christian faith in different cultures, which is great.

  • Look into orthodoxy

    • Hi Teresa, welcome to Restless Pilgrim. I’m Eastern Catholic – I belong to a parish which celebrates the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and is also in communion with Rome.

  • is it me or is no one not seeing black depictions

  • I HAVE 2 ANCIENT CROSS WITH THAT ON IT, ALSO 1 SAYS “ICXP”…ANYONE KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS? BY THE WAY THISE WERE EXCAVED IN UKRAINE

    • Hi Vern, welcome to Restless Pilgrim 🙂

      If you look in my article, I give the Greek name for Christ: ΙΗΣΟΥΣ (“Jesus”) and ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (“Christ”). I think your cross uses the first and last letters of “Jesus”, ΙΣ (which becomes IC) but then uses the first two letters of “Christ”, XP. Putting this together, we get “IC XP”.

      (The letters XP are often found in Christian art and are known by the Greek name, “Chi-Rho”)

      I’m not certain that this is the story behind your cross, but that’s my educated guess.

      Hope this helps,

      David.

      • Thank you so much for the info David. You seem very informed, I collect these crosses for years, I can never find info about them, the one excavated in Ukraine the owner says its early medieval times, also any info on same cross with a skull head on bottom of it?
        Thanks for the info. Vern

  • is there anyway to post a pic on here?

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