Enter the Chi Rho

The Chi Rho. The letter Chi, the letter Rho. The first letters in the Greek rendering of Christ. Superimpose them and you have a monogram, a Christogram, that stood for Christ, pronounced like “Cairo”. When was it first used? It bloomed in the second part of the fourth century, in coins, mosaics, sarcophagi, as one of the new Christian visuals.

You can read that the usurper Magnentius (now mentioned only in “on this day” posts [1] [2] or coin lists [3] [4]) was the first to make official use of it in coins in 353.

Magnentius Chi Rho Coin

But what about this beauty?

Bronze Coin 327 Constantinople Mint

Here’s the Serpent (the recently defeated Licinius) spiked by Constantine’s standard, a standard topped by the Chi Rho. The coin is a rare bronze issued in 327 by the new mint in Constantinople. Some of Constantine’s earlier coins have the Chi Rho too but some argue that these are merely mint marks. This Chi Rho is nothing of the sort. It tops the depicted standard, presumably Constantine’s famous labarum.

Why so rare? Why not more use? Why were it and other Christian symbols not spread widely by the first “Christian” emperor, as he lavished great basilicas on his previously modest cult? Just another piece of the puzzle that is the first part of this century, the puzzle of that man left standing afterwards as Rome’s sole leader.

In the following centuries, the Chi Rho lost its place to the cross but it is being resurrected today [5] [6] along with other early (i.e. 4th century) symbols.

6 Responses to “Enter the Chi Rho”

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  3. Jason Says:

    I am so often *cross* about Christianity lately, Ghandi once said I love your Christ but I am not so cocnnvied about your Christians’ or something in that vein. I’m no Ghandi but I am a committed Christian, for better or worse, culturally and spiritually. In fact I discovered something personally recently- it’s not even a choice I have. Having been raised this way, somewhat imperfectly, the values are ingrained.Selfishness, greed, cruelty anathema to Christians once we are exposed to the cross, symbol of Jesus’ self-sacrifice and trying to change the world. None of us are the same after. We may try to proceed business-like but life is totally changed.And then we get to see people like you Bosco, who have been through the refiner’s fire: knowing God chooses the best of people to demonstrate this. And yet wishing you so much less pain than you have had to bear.Isn’t that what compassion is? I am sorry’ for another’s suffering?That’s what the symbol of the crucifix means to me: it’s a complete reminder of how many people sacrifice their own human condition, following Christ, and still manage to move forward with humanity.The cross takes us back to all that is important, even though as other people point out here it is so often used as a manipulative symbol down the ages for the exact opposite to Jesus’ wishes, materialism and cruelty.When I see a cross or other Christian symbol today I think warning’, because it has to be filtered, goodness or badness.But it is goodness I choose to search out- because it is there, despite everything.That’s what seeing a cross means to me. *Lovely poem Gillian.

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