The Art of the Cemetery: IHS

IHS is a monogram symbol-a motif of multiple letters interwoven in a decorative design.  Monograms are graphic symbols that are used as a sign of identity.  IHS stands for the first three letters-iota-eta-sigma-of the name Jesus in Greek.  A Christogram-a combination of letters (a monogram) that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ-IHS is one of the most commonly used religious symbols within the Christian Church.  Used in Latin-speaking Europe since the 7th century, the christogram is used among Catholics and many Protestants today.

One can find IHS etched on the frontispieces (illustrations) of altars, church doors, paschal candles (large, white candles representing Christ), books, and medals.  One might also find the letters on the cross, crucifix, stained glass window, tabernacle, and altar within Catholic churches.  It is often portrayed as the center of a burning sun, with magnificent rays bursting forth.

While IHS is most often used as a monogram on worship furnishings, it is a common icon on gravestones.   The ancient way of writing “Jesus Christ” as a gravestone decoration was most popular in the early 20th century.  Typically, on gravestones, the elaborate decoration consists of a christogram surrounded by fern leaves.  The fern, indicating sincerity and solitude, was a common motif during the Victorian period.  The christogram firmly identifies the decedent as Christian.  With its Christian origins, IHS signifies the deceased’s devotion to Christ.  To Christians, IHS is a reminder of the constant presence of the loving Savior.

Woodlawn is an open-air art gallery and living history museum that attracts 100,000 visitors annually.  Our memorials represent the largest and finest collection of funerary art in the country.  Visit our cemetery and explore 400 acres of art, architecture, and history.

Woodlawn continues to be a non-sectarian cemetery without a specific religious affiliation.