April A to Z Challenge 2020: It’s that time of year! Every April, bloggers around the world make posts for each letter of the alphabet. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to make friends online. Here’s my post for today:
[The following is an adapted excerpt from my book, Understanding Cemetery Symbols. I hope you enjoy it! Also, full disclosure: that’s an Amazon affiliate link. If you buy stuff after clicking it, I make a few pennies at no additional cost to you.]
IHS is not a dollar sign
I nearly titled this post, “Why does Grandpa have a Dollar Sign on his Headstone?” because variations of the IHS emblem can look a lot like a dollar sign! And while there certainly are people out there who seem to worship the almighty dollar, that is definitely not what’s going on in this instance.
Ancient Greek roots
Like so many things related to historic cemeteries, IHS has ancient Greek roots. When you spell “Jesus” in Greek, it looks like “Ihsous.” As you can see, the first three letters of his name are I, H, and S.
Christograms are abbreviations for Jesus
Over time, IHS became shorthand for “Jesus.” Abbreviations for “Jesus” are known as Christrograms, and some other examples include XP and JHS. (I’ll get into those another day.)
Merely 3 letters…
In Greek, IHS are the letters iota, eta, and sigma. Even so, people often assign other meanings to those letters as a way to give added meaning to this ancient abbreviation.
…but people like to add extra meaning
The most popular ones are the Latin phrases: in hoc salus for “there is safety in this,” in hoc signo meaning “by this sign,” and, Iesus hominum salvator, for “Jesus, the savior of mankind.”
Have you seen a version of IHS?
At first IHS is easy to overlook, but once you become aware of it, you will start noticing it all over! Everywhere I go, I see different design variations of IHS. Engravers love to riff on it. Have you seen any IHS variations while exploring historic cemeteries?
Did you hear this?
Did you catch my recent radio show? Mark Olson and I discussed how and why he created several meaningful monuments on the next episode of Tombstone Tuesday, my 30-minute podcast about exploring historic cemeteries. If the topic interests you, I invite you to catch the replay – or maybe even call into the next show! (Click here to listen to the show and see the graphic below for more info.)
Learn more at my Historic Cemetery Podcast & Facebook Page:
Do you have questions about symbols you’ve seen on headstones? Drop by Exploring Historic Cemeteries on Facebook and let me know! And tune in to my 30-minute historic cemetery podcast on the first Tuesday of each month: Tombstone Tuesday with Tui Snider.
READ MY BOOK: If you enjoy historic cemeteries and want to learn more, check out my book: Understanding Cemetery Symbols. It’s available on Amazon in paperback and ebook form.