In 312 C.E., Constantine defeated his opponent Maxentius in the battle of the Milvian Bridge outside Rome. Christian apologists claimed that during that campaign, there appeared under the sun a flaming cross bearing the Latin words In hoc signo vinces, meaning "In this sign conquer." It is also held that in a dream, Constantine was told to paint the first two letters of Christ's name in Greek on the shields of his troops.
Another non-Biblical letter claims special significance from a Greek-letter cipher for 318, namely, IHT. The writer of this apocryphal work claims that IH represents the first two letters of Jesus in Greek. The T is viewed as the shape of Jesus' death stake.
The most common letters appearing on pictures are I.N.R.I. This is an abbreviation of the Latin Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudorum, meaning "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews". A variation of this is I.N.R.J., Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Judorum (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews). This abbreviation is based on what the apostle John says was on the sign placed on the Cross: Jesus the Nazarene the King of the Jews. John 19:19, although in the gospel accounts the words were also written in Hebrew and Greek as well as Latin.
The four letters that commonly appear affixed to the top of a crucifix are INRI, an abbreviation for the Latin phrase IESVS NAZARENVS REX IVDÆORVM which translated reads "Jesus Nazarene (of Nazareth), King of the Jews". This inscription was affixed to the cross when Jesus was crucified and was written out in Hebrew, Greek and Latin.
The Jerusalem cross, also known as Crusaders' crossThe four smaller crosses are said to symbolize either the four books of the Gospel or the four directions in which the Word of Christ spread from Jerusalem. Alternately, all five crosses can symbolize the five wounds of Christ during the Passion, the Pentateuch and, presumably, the first five Christian Churches.
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