The staurogram is a ligature of the Greek letters Τ and Ρ that represents the crucified Christ. The staurogram originated in 2nd-century gospel manuscripts, which used it to abbreviate the Greek words for "cross" and "crucify." By the fourth century it was well established in Christian art and inscriptions (Hurtado, "Staurogram"). It is often seen in paleo-Christian sarcophagi like the one pictured at right. An alpha and omega (Α and ω, the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet) are often added to the staurogram, either atop the crossbar as at right or hanging from it as in
this detail from a sarcophagus in Ravenna. The letters refer to Revelation 1:8, 21:6, 22:13: "I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end."
The second picture at right is an example of how the loop evolved into a small "tail." More important, it shows how closely the staurogram was associated with the crucified Christ as savior of humankind. The peacocks are a conventional symbol of immortality, and the four rivers and tree of life remind one of the rivers and tree in the prelapsarian Paradise, which Christ's sacrifice has opened up to the faithful again.
The faithful themselves can be represented by sheep approaching the staurogram, as in the third picture at right and in this lamp.
Sometimes one sees the staurogram with the loop of the Ρ flipped to the left, as on this small lamp from Salona (420-550):
THE IX MONOGRAM
This is a combination of Ι and Χ, the first letters of the Greek words for "Jesus" and "Christ." It may be encircled by a wreath or sometimes a circle representing the universe, as in this example from the apse at San Vitale, Ravenna:
Prepared in 2016 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2016-12-07.