Chrism: sacred symbol of Christ and Byzantium

In a sense, Chrism represents the union of several cultures.

Through its link with Christ, this symbol is inseparable from the Christian religion and its values.

Through its history and the context of its appearance, it is also linked to Eastern Roman tradition, and therefore the Byzantine Empire.

Chrism is actually a leading Christian good luck charm that, despite its apparent simplicity, hides deep spiritual messages that we would all do well to discover.

This is good, this is precisely what we are going to do together today.

Contents :

Description of chrism

What is a Christogram?

Pre-Christian origins?

The legend of the Chrism of Emperor Constantine

A religious symbol… but also military!

Chrism and other Christian lucky symbols

Discover this article in video format

Chrism painted on the altar of a Protestant church.

Description of Chrism

Also known as the “Chi Rho cross” (in reference to the letters that form it), the Chrism is indeed made up of two Greek characters, chi and rho.

Yes, our Christian symbol is made up of the intersection of the Greek capital letters Chi (Χ) and Rho (Ρ).

From our point of view, Chrism could seem to be made of the two letters X and P of our Latin alphabet. Do not mix everything up. It is indeed our current letters which are inspired by ancient Greek, and not the other way around.

A description is also given to us by the Latin author Lactantius as the “ transversa X littera, summo capite circumflexo ”, or the “letter, circumflex and with a high head, crossing the X”.

Known for the beauty of his prose, Lactantius notably wrote about Chrism and his celestial appearance to one of the greatest leaders of his time... but we will talk about that later.

If we look at this pendant with the engraved cross of the Chrism for example, we can see what a “basic” Chrism is.

With this other amulet on the other hand, adds the letters alpha and omega, a common symbol in Christianity of Christ as bringing together everything, the whole world.

This choice of letters is in any case not trivial: they are in fact the first two of the Greek word “Christos” (ΧΡΙΣΤΟ) which, without too many surprises, does not translate into “Christ” in French.

In short, the Chi Rho cross is a model of Christian cross associated with the figure of Christ as a whole. Throughout history, there have also existed various variations.

Christian cross with a christogram, the IHS, engraved on it.

What is a Christogram?

Chrism is thus above all a christogram, to understand a particular symbol supposed to represent Jesus Christ.

More precisely, a christogram is a particular monogram (i.e. a combination of superimposed letters) serving as an abbreviation for the name of Christ.

Made up of letters, or sometimes even syllables, christograms have in any case an undeniable sacred character.

More than just ease of writing, the creation of these various Christian symbols was really done in the search for understanding of Christ's teachings. For many early Christians, still strongly influenced by ancient Greek thought, the verb (or logos) possessed an intrinsic power.

As such, the name of Christ was the most powerful of all and, represented in writing in the right way, it could help in the transmission of certain messages, in the accession to a more just thought and spirituality..

In the Christian tradition, there are several Christograms, of which here are the main ones:

  • Chrism which, as we have seen, is formed from the first two letters of the word “Christos”, Christ in Greek.
  • IHS ”, also sometimes called “iota, eta, segma”, a christogram bringing together the first letters of the Latin expression “Iesus Hominum Salvator”, or “Jesus, Savior of men”.
  • IC

It appears here clearly that christograms are often linked to Greek.

This is easily explained: at the time of the first Christians, Greek civilization was still the most literate, the most learned and the most educated, and most of the authors of the known world used it (in writing at least ).

Logically therefore, many authors, scribes and thinkers from the early days of the Church used this language, hence the appearance of numerous Christograms in it.

If you are interested in the history of the Church, and perhaps wish to discover it through its symbols, this collection dedicated to Christianity should please you!

Egyptian bas-relief which shows a religious scene.

Pre-Christian origins?

Before we talk about the Christian meaning and our lucky symbol (and its official history), it may be good to focus on some disturbing facts about Chrism.

Basically, it would apparently be older, much older even, than Christianity and its use by Greek authors.

We must keep reason: in history certain symbols may have been used by different cultures, and at times far apart from each other, without necessarily there being a particular link to understand.

Such a bracelet might seem pious to you, but have nothing Catholic about it. Such another medallion will seem Christian to you, but be pagan. Jewelry can sometimes carry spiritual meaning, but sometimes not. Anyway, you get the idea.

Here is a list of some disturbing facts that we cannot ignore:

  • Chrism would have been used in Greece, yes, but well before the birth of Christ already. More specifically, it is said to have served as a symbol of good luck in ancient pagan Hellenic religion.
  • Some sources attest to its presence in primitive astrological works, where our symbol was used to represent the trajectory of the Sun in relation to the equator.
  • The "Timaeus", a famous Greek work by the equally famous Plato, uses an exact replica of Chrism to represent the concept of "anima mundi", or "soul of the world", this vital force capable of connecting the souls of men to the universe.
  • Archaeologists have found coins dating from Pharaoh Ptolemy III (around the 3rd century BC) on which there was a similar engraving.
  • Millennia before the birth of Christ, the ancient Egyptians used the same symbol as a representation of the Eye of Horus, a powerful good luck charm linked to the powers of the eponymous god.
  • Still in Egypt, scribes would have used our symbol to annotate certain parts of texts judged to be more important than others.

Ancient map that shows the Byzantine Empire.

The legend of the Chrism of Emperor Constantine

The facts cited above may be disturbing, yes, but they do not constitute official history, that which historians and the Church have taught for millennia now.

To put it simply, the legend of Chrism is the scene of a true miracle, a miracle which saved a declining empire and marked the beginning of the conversion of Europe to Christianity.

Between divine vision, unexpected victory and conversion, we are now going to discover this story together.

Apparitions in dreams… and in the heavens

The legend of Constantine and Chrism begins as many conversions have begun throughout history: seeing his fellow men lost (and many pagan military leaders suffering a series of defeats), the leader of the Eastern Roman Empire, Constantine, decided to pray and ask for a sign from the true god(s) of the right spiritual path.

At this time, therefore, Constantine was not a Christian and, without knowing who would answer him, still lived in the ancient Roman religion, despite a notable rise in Christianity.

That afternoon, the afternoon of his prayer, he saw a sign appear in the heavens, alongside which were the words “with this symbol you will conquer”. You must suspect, it was Chrism.

This glorious symbol shone brightly, like yellow gold of many carats, like a diamond facing the Sun.

Some sources attest to this miraculous apparition that everyone saw, notably his army, which found itself invigorated (and undoubtedly converted).

The night that followed, Christ appeared in a dream to the Emperor Constantine, advising him to use the sign of the afternoon to defend himself against his enemies and against all those who would stand in the way of the conversion of his empire.

A battle won through faith

Through this exceptional charisma and the truthful response that had been given to him, Constantine developed an ardent fervor and, the same day, had Chrism drawn on the shields of all his men.

He also burned the old war standards, marked with pagan symbols, to replace them with the labarum, the name given to the Christian standard marked with Chrism.

Constantine thus set out towards a seemingly losing battle: the battle of the Milvian Bridge pitted him against the forces of the Western Roman Empire, who were much more numerous and familiar with war matters.

To learn more about this major historical fact, here is the Wikipedia entry which talks about it (with a certain accuracy in the words).

The conversion of Constantine and his empire

Without much surprise, Constantine won the victory. The Roman senate thus declared him the only Augustus, and Constantine placed the responsibility for his victory on the God of the Christians.

This founding event thus marks the end of the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, as well as a new era for the Church to be engraved in history.

A few years later, Constantine even made Christianity the official religion of Rome, and retained Chrism as a military symbol, yes, but also a spiritual one.

Reflection on the legend of Chrism

Even gold-plated or made of crystal, the Chrisme is much more than a simple jewelry object!

Ultimately, his legend is more interesting for the messages it carries and the various repercussions it could have rather than the question of its veracity.

When we see the impact it had on his time, whether Constantine actually saw Christ and his symbol is of little importance.

Associating the conversion of the largest empire of the time with that of its leader is fraught with meaning. When in addition this conversion begins with a simple question asked “ If a God exists, let him send me a sign ”, a direction is shown to millions of men, a direction conducive to rapprochement with the truth and the Lord.

In short, the appearance of Chrism on Roman standards coincided with the beginning of a new era which would last a thousand years.

If you want to better place this symbol in context, here are a few words of explanation about Emperor Constantine and his personality.

Roman ruins with a stone bearing a Chrism in the middle of the rubble.

A religious symbol… but also military!

We noted it in the previous point: Chrism was affixed to the labarum, the official military standard of the Roman Empire.

So, even if its religious meaning is beyond doubt, our symbol was also a good luck charm for the soldiers of the time.

In fact, according to some historians, Constantine would have been closer to the conqueror than to the pious man of the Church. When we see the many battles he fought, this is not without meaning.

Following the Battle of the Bridge of Milvius, the Chrism was affixed to warriors' shields, but also to certain helmets, boats and army convoys.

It's a bit as if overnight the entire empire had wanted to show that it was fighting for a new cause, that of Christ.

Even if this image is beautiful, we must keep and remember the political intrigues that raged at the time, Rome experiencing a period of great upheaval.

Chrism could thus be above all the sign of recognition of one camp (that of the converts) facing the other (that of the pagans). These two camps, moreover, will tear each other apart during bloody battles and treacherous political games.

The victory at Milvian Bridge allowed Constantine (and the Christians) to conclude the Edict of Milan which, as early as 313, promised religious freedom to all, even to previously martyred followers of Christ.

A few decades later, in 391, Christianity had progressed so much that it was declared an official religion and the old cults were abolished.

Symbolically, the victory of the Christians over the others was truly confirmed when the empire officially replaced the eagle and the thunderbolt (the ancient emblem of Rome) with the Chrism and the wolf, representation of a Roman and Christian army.

The reality is undoubtedly less beautiful than the legend, but does not remove our Christogram from its pedestal, the symbol remaining that of the most powerful army of its time.

If you are interested in the history of the Christianization of Rome, here is an interesting video created by France Télévisions which should provide you with more information.

White Chrism on a mural in a European city.

Chrism and other Christian lucky symbols

The 4th century AD, the period in which Chrism appeared and the legend of Constantine took place, marked great upheavals in the Christian Church.

As much in its form as in its institutions or even in some of its dogmas, many elements were called into question.

Among the topics that animated the debate, we can cite things like the development of new sects and heresies, the notion of tolerance, the role of the Church in civic life, the notion of the Trinity, and a whole bunch of others things.

In such a context, many Christian lucky symbols may have appeared or, rather, changed meaning.

Made of gold, silver, precious stones... or on the contrary of wood and cheap alloys: their message always remains important.

For a wedding, a communion or a baptism: the discerning Christian will always find exceptional gift ideas.

In short, we can for example cite:

  • The cross, without all its forms, which literally conquered Europe in the space of a few years
  • Other christograms, like “IC IX” or “IHS”, which we told you about earlier
  • Certain religious icons, notably of the Virgin Mary
  • The Christian fish (known as ichthus), which also refers to Jesus Christ
  • The symbol of the sheep and the shepherd, a reminder of the pastoral relationship that unites us to the Lord
  • A saint's medal. There are dozens of different medals paying homage to Christ, the Virgin, angels and saints.
  • And a whole bunch of others

Among all these, Chrism could seem to be just one symbol among many others. The beauty of the jewel, the rhinestones and the sequins can mask its original meaning.

It would be forgotten its particularity: it represents Christ.

As such, no emblem, no sign can be as pious as him.

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Lucky charms featured in this article

Pendant with the cross engraved with the savior Chrism

Pendant with the cross engraved with the savior Chrism

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Sacred Chrism Amulet

Sacred Chrism Amulet

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author picture(Cyril Gendarme)

Discover the author: Cyril Gendarme

Cyril Gendarme is a writer whose website "The Lucky Door" ("La Porte Du Bonheur" in French, his native language) has become a reference in the field of esotericism. Born in Belgium, Cyril has been attracted to the mysteries of the world since he was a child. When his interest in occultism was awakened, a particular subject caught his attention: lucky charms.

After years of study and in-depth research on esoteric traditions from around the world, Cyril decided to share his knowledge with the public through the internet. In 2019, he launched "The Lucky Door," a website dedicated to exploring lucky charms, magical symbols, and esoteric arts.

The Lucky Door is much more than just a showcase for those curious about magic, divination, or tradition. It is the result of Cyril's passion for researching and understanding the mysteries of the universe. Every piece of information available on the site testifies to his dedication to sharing his knowledge of the most hidden symbols and their unique powers.

In addition to his online work, Cyril regularly organizes workshops and conferences in different countries. His presence on social media is also highly appreciated, where he offers personalized advice and happily answers questions from his community.