Signs and Symbols

What signs or symbols might identify an individual as Christian?

Except in a few rare traditional societies in which ordinary garb can still distinguish members of different religious traditions, ordinary Christians typically display few obvious signs of their religious affiliations. The most common symbols are small items of jewelry, such as rings or necklaces, displaying the symbol of the cross. Another decorative symbol is the stylized outline of a fish, with or without an enclosed text. Sometimes the fish has the word Jesus written within it, sometimes the Greek word for “fish” (ichthus). The symbolism of that Greek word derives from an ancient acronym meaning “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” (Iesous Christos Theou Uios Soter). Fish symbols often take the form of metal automobile decorations or bumper stickers. Individuals wearing or displaying either the cross or the fish symbol might belong to any of a number of Christian denominations or communities. Angels have become extraordinarily popular in recent years among Christians of all persuasions and can be seen on such objects as lapel pins or dashboard magnets.

Other small identifying items are distinctively Roman Catholic. Various kinds of medals hung around the neck, or rings, might depict Jesus, his mother Mary, a patron saint, or an angel. Catholics sometimes use a variation on the more generic and plain Christian cross, called the crucifix, which depicts the body of the suffering Christ. In addition, Catholics and Orthodox Christians may make the “sign of the cross” in public, asking a blessing on the activity at hand.

A cross with a fish symbol, as well as Alpha and Omega (left and right), bread of the Eucharist (above) with Greek letters “chi” and “rho” for first two letters of Christ, and grapes symbolizing wine below.


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