Ichthus: Discovery of the Christian Fish Symbol

Mystical, strange and mysterious, few people know what is really hidden behind the ichthus, this fish symbol of Christians.

Is this a direct allusion to fish, and therefore possibly to sailors and fishermen?

Why do so many representations of the ichthus show it to us with strange characteristics?

What is his story ? And above all, its link with the first persecuted Christians?

Does ichthus still have meaning today?

Together, we will answer all these questions.

In short, without further ado, let's try to learn more about this lucky fish so dear to Christians around the world.

Contents :

Ichthus is above all… an acronym!

So, what is the symbol of ichthus?

Meaning of ichthus from a historical perspective

Current Uses of Ichthus


Letters on dice forming an acronym.

Ichthus is above all… an acronym!

An essential part of understanding the meaning of ichthus is linguistic and semantic study.

In fact, the term "ichtus" (which some purists spell "ikhthus") comes from the Greek word "ichthys".

So, but what can all this teach us?

Well in reality, “ichthys” is what we call a monogram (or acrostic), namely a word or a sign in which each letter carries a meaning, so that the whole describes a sentence or an idea..

Even more precisely, “ichthys” is a christogram, that is to say a monogram used to designate Jesus Christ.

From American Protestants to Eastern Orthodox, there are numerous Christograms throughout Christendom. So look at this collection of jewelry and accessories dedicated to Christianity and you will find some examples.

In short, to understand the message of ichtus, we must take an interest in each element composing the original term... which we are going to do here:

  • Iota is the first letter of Iesous (Ἰησοῦς), the name of Jesus in Greek.
  • Chi is the first letter of Christos (Χριστóς), Christ
  • Theta is the first letter of Theou (Θεοῦ), which translates to “of God”
  • Upsilon is the first letter of Huios (Υἱός), meaning “the Son”
  • Sigma is the first letter of Soter (Σωτήρ), the Savior

The christogram of the ichthus can thus literally be read as the phrase “ Jesus Christ, Son of God the Savior ”. (Let us clarify: some prefer the translation “Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior”.)

Saint Augustine himself said it in the City of God (of which you will find an extract here) :

“If we join together the first letters of these five Greek words which we said signify Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, we will find Ichthus, which means fish in Greek, the mystical name of the Savior, because he alone was able to remain alive, that is to say free from sin, in the midst of the abysses of our mortality, similar to the depths of the sea. " - The City of God, XVIII, 23

The Jerusalem cross, a statue of Christ and a Templar amulet

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thanks to the messages of these Christian symbols


So, what is the symbol of ichthus?

According to many historians, the ichthus would thus have served as an alphabet book, a sort of mnemonic device that children and new converts could have used to acquire the notion of Christ.

A bit like the way some children's nursery rhymes teach the alphabet, the ichthus would have served to convey an understanding of the essential nature of Christ.

Please note, this does not mean that our lucky fish did not have a mystical meaning, far from it, but simply that it could have had a more down-to-earth function.

However, it obviously remains possible that the ichthus could have carried other messages. There are many points of view, some of which we will discuss now.

It is obvious that with the way in which the two arcs that compose it intersect, our lucky symbol depicts the figure of a fish.

The link that Jesus Christ could have had with a simple marine animal is not necessarily obvious to someone who has never read the Gospels and therefore deserves some explanation.

Here is a list of some elements from the Bible that highlight this relationship:

  • In Matthew 14 it says that Christ fed a crowd with only five loaves and two fish.
  • In both Luke 5 and John 21 we have descriptions of scenes where Jesus allowed a miraculous catch to take place.
  • In several passages of the Gospels, the apostles are described as “fishers of men”. This could mean that men are fish. Now, as Jesus is also a man because he is incarnate, he would be the “big fish”, the ichthus.
  • Precisely 23 times in the New Testament, the term “ichthus” is used to describe simple fish. However, another Hebrew word existed. This is therefore a choice to provide a new translation
  • Half of Christ's disciples were fishermen in their former lives.

White ichthus drawn on a rock placed on wooden boards.

Meaning of ichthus from a historical perspective

The symbol of the ichthus thus certainly carries a pious and very profound meaning from a Christian point of view.

All spiritual or religious considerations aside, we are talking here about a recognized emblem which was historically used by early Christians.

However, as we mentioned in the introduction, it may well be that the symbol of the fish is actually even older than the coming of Christ on earth.

In short, without further ado, let's look at the meaning of ichthus at the historical level.

An originally pagan symbol? Really ?

Yes, it’s entirely possible in reality!

In fact, the symbol of the fish has always been associated with the divine and the sacred. By their abundance and their nurturing aspect, these marine species on which almost every people feast are seen as gifts coming from superior forces.

Many gods and goddesses of Antiquity (and even of Prehistory, although this is more difficult to demonstrate) are thus linked to fish and fishing.

In this regard, we can cite a few deities :

  • Poseidon and his counterpart Neptune, the Hellenic and Roman gods of the sea
  • Hatmehyt, a fish goddess worshiped in ancient Egypt
  • Dagon, an Assyrian deity who is half man, half fish
  • Ikatere, the fish god of the Maori (there is little chance that the Christians were inspired by them, we gladly grant you that)
  • Njord, the master of the winds and the sea in Nordic tradition

All without exception have the fish as their symbol.

None, however, is really linked to ichthus: as we mentioned in the previous point, the term itself was created in connection with Jesus Christ.

A first historical appearance in the Eastern Church

This is all well and good... but what interests us (and no doubt what interests you as well) is above all the place of ichthus in the Christian world!

Historically, the first concrete traces of its use actually date back to the Middle East from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.

To put it simply, the use of the fish symbol by Christians really dates from the very beginning of the Church.

At the time, it was mainly used to decorate churches and altars, to mark the graves of Christians (to differentiate them from those of Jews, for example)... In short, the ichthus was then a religious symbol like any other.

It only took a few decades for it to spread until it reached the Egyptian city of Alexandria.

Given the character of a commercial and cultural crossroads of this city at the time, it was a sort of “springboard” which allowed the Christian symbol of the fish to conquer the rest of the Mediterranean.

One thing deserves to be raised here: ichthus as a lucky charm did indeed appear at the same time as Christianity and spread as conversions took place.

There is therefore a close link between our religion and the symbol of the fish, it is clear…

A sign of recognition between persecuted Christians

During the first centuries of existence of the Christian community, the faithful had to undergo terrible persecution (here is the Wikipedia article which presents this historical period )

At the time, it was dangerous to be a Christian, so much so that many men and women were tortured and executed by the Romans simply for their beliefs.

We therefore had to practice our religion in a secret way and above all ensure that no person who did not share our faith was aware that we were faithful to Christ.

The ichthus was thus quickly used as a sign of recognition between Christian brothers.

Already, as we have just seen, this symbol carries a deep religious meaning and has been linked to our religion since its creation.

Another element of choice making ichthus is actually the ease with which it can be traced.

Concretely, in times of persecution, it was enough to draw a curve on the sand or the ground and, if the person in front of you had the same faith, they would then complete the symbol with the same inverted curve.

In a way, the meaning of the ichthus changed and, although the symbol retained its original meaning, it acquired another one linked to the preservation of the faith and the numerous martyrs of the first centuries.

As terrible as it may seem, persecution against Christians still continues in some countries around the world. The symbolic significance of the ichthus can therefore (unfortunately) still be entirely relevant.

Three medals of Christian saints, all with different patronages

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Current Uses of Ichthus

It would therefore seem that ichthus could have carried the value of fraternity, friendship, mutual aid and support between Christian brothers and sisters.

When in the past we came across a fish drawn on a wall somewhere in town, we knew that a friend was not far away.

Nowadays, however, it seems that the ichthus has become more decorative than truly significant.

We can indeed see it in stickers on car windows, incorporated into bracelets and pendants, and even in the form of key rings.

It is clear that this is no longer a sign of recognition of the martyrs of yesteryear!

Its sense of identification, however, is always the same: wearing the ichthus is a simple way to identify yourself as a believer but also to show it to the rest of the world without necessarily having to say anything.

After several centuries of disuse, our fish symbol experienced a resurgence starting in the 1970s.

Some see it as just a coincidence of history like so many others.

For us, there is a much deeper meaning behind this: in recent years, it has been increasingly shameful (especially among young people) to claim to be a Christian.

This is unfortunate and we deplore it, but our modern society is such that it is frowned upon to cling to the values ​​(religious, moral or other) of our ancestors.

Today more than ever, therefore, the ichthus as a symbol of hidden and, to a certain extent, persecuted Christians may be relevant.


The ichthus is a mysterious symbol to say the least.

Used since the dawn of time, it seems that similar images (in the shape of fish) were used during pagan rituals. However, it was indeed following the incarnation of Christ on earth that this symbol began to be used on a large scale.

Yes, despite troubled roots, we are here faced with an element of Christian faith... and what an element!

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.