What does ‘IHS’ stand for?

Anyone who has ever been to a church has probably wondered what the letter IHS on the crosses and other icons stand for. I know I did but never bothered to actually find out, limiting myself to making guesses during the times when my mind wandered during the ceremony. I remember thinking that maybe it stood for ‘In His Service’ or, as I got older and more sophisticated in my wild guesses, for ‘Jesus of Nazareth, Savior’ in some other language, say Greek, with I standing for the J sound and the H for the N sound.

It turns out that I was wildly off. But Chuck sets me straight.


  1. F [is for fluvial] says

    Why stop there? INRI, IC XC NI( )KA, and don’t forget that IH(S) comes with an XP(S) [not the MS one].

  2. bad Jim says

    Often you’ll see INRI, which doesn’t stand for “Iron Nails Ran In” but rather “Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum” (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews).

  3. says

    Oh hells bells, I wish he’d get on with it, I’m dying to know. No….he’s too busy doing his comedy act. And what’s all that Pink-Panther-style quirky underscore for? Fuck it….I’ve lost interest now.

  4. =8)-DX says

    Ah, yeah, bad Jim, I was remembering the INRI and wondering why it didn’t fit with IHS.

  5. says

    IHS stands for in hoc signo, which is itself short for in hoc signo vinces. It derives from an apocryphal story told of Constantine the Great in his battles against his co-emperors to become the sole ruler of the Roman Empire, when he received a vision of either the Chi-Rho (in early versions of the story) or the Latin Cross (in later versions) etched in light in the sky, with a voice saying “In this sign, you will be victorious.”

    It is known that his army relied heavily on mercenary forces, and many of the sellswords had personal emblems on their shields. Some of them were Christians, who used the Chi-Rho, and Christian companies used banners with the Chi-Rho on them, so whether or not the story is true, his soldiers did march under (what was then) the primary symbol of Christianity. Supposedly, this explains the Edict of Milan in 313, which officially ended the persecution of Christians (which was infrequent and only rarely ever enforced, despite the snuff fantasies of Christian martyr wanna-bes) and the First Council of Nicaea, which was intended to end the violent bloodshed occurring between rival Christian.

  6. trucreep says

    From digging deep deep deep into my memories from Catholic school….I want to say it has something to do with ‘King of the Jews’ ??? Part of the crown of thorns motif or something

  7. Vote for Pedro says

    It appears the Latin you reference is a later addition, and the video’s claim it started as just an abbreviation of the Greek for Jesus seems correct.

    I found a Catholic encyclopedia (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07649a.htm) doesn’t mention the Latin and supports the argument of the video. But since the video mentions the extra meaning (short for Jesus, savior of humankind) which appears to be layered later, no reason to think the Latin didn’t get layered as well.

    The encyclopedia does mention the chi-rho, but by way of comparing something that was also an abbreviation which had more meanings layered on it.

  8. kimbeaux says

    If you read it backward, and include the cross, it spells shit. Surely that is significant of something?

  9. khms says

    Anyone who has ever been to a church has probably wondered what the letter IHS on the crosses and other icons stand for.

    I don’t remember ever seeing that before, so no. But maybe I just wasn’t all that interested in this stuff. On the other hand, I know about INRI, and I don’t remember ever seeing that for real, either. Same goes for the fish.

    Then again, over her, people don’t seem quite as fond of filling everything up with religious symbols, so … <shrug>.

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