The Chi Rho—a symbol that looks like a “P” with an “X” superimposed over it—is a Christogram. You may remember our discussion of a different and equally well-known Christogram, the IHS, in a previous Get Fed. IHS represents “Jesus” in Greek, while the Chi Rho stands for “Christ”: the letters X (chi) and P (rho) are the first two letters of “Christ” in Greek.
A fascinating story involving the first Christian emperor, Constantine, explains the prevalence of the Chi Rho in Christianity. According to the historian Eusebius, the Emperor and his army had an astounding vision prior to the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, in which Constantine faced the usurper emperor Maxentius. Constantine—who was not yet a Christian—and his troops saw a cross of light emblazoned in the sky above the sun, with the words, “By this sign, you shall conquer”—in Latin, In hoc signo vinces.
Constantine was not sure what to make of this vision, but that night, he had a dream in which Jesus instructed him to make a likeness of the symbol and use it as a defense against his enemies. Thereafter, the Emperor made a battle standard composed of a cross—shaped by a crossbeam added to a long spear—and crowned with the Chi Rho.
Constantine won the Battle of the Milvian Bridge and soon after converted to Christianity. He continued to use the Chi Rho as his battle-symbol and on other official items such as coins. Its use quickly spread throughout the empire, and it is now one of our faith’s most common symbols.
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