First United Presbyterian Church


Here is another beautiful cross from First United Presbyterian Church. This is the familiar Latin cross shape, but there is something different about it. If you look closely, you can see the letters “JHS” or “IHS” on it.

What’s that all about?

Is that an I or a J?

It could be either one. Look closely and make your best guess, but either way, the meaning is the same.

In the 3rd century, Christians began writing the name of Jesus, ΙΗΣΟΥΣ in Greek, with just the first three letters. This abbreviation of the name is called a Christogram, and is understood to name Jesus Christ.

However, both Greek and Latin were used during the time that this Christogram came into popularity, but the two languages did not have the same alphabet. Σ was written as S by speakers of Latin. I and J were used interchangeably. Like English, which didn’t settle into standardized spelling until the 18th century, Latin was relaxed about letter choice at the time.

Is there another meaning?

In addition to the Christogram, the abbreviation for the name of Jesus, you can also find claims that JHS stands for “Jesus Hominum Salvator,” or “Jesus, Savior of Humankind.”

Naturally, this interpretation made JHS more popular as a variant. However, the experts are firm in saying that this is a back-formation — a later explanation to try to make sense of something that otherwise would not be easy to understand. A famous example of back-formation is the idea that “asparagus” came from “sparrow grass.”

If you want to see this cross in person, you can find it in the robing area outside the choir room in the sanctuary.

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