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January 31, 2016

In a previous article I put up portraits of the first four archimandrites of the White Monastery Federation, Saints Pishoi, Pcol, Shenoute and Besa – portraits that go back to the 7-th-century.

One thing obvious in all four portraits is the Christian symbol that is inscribed on each side of their schema. I take that of Besa as a representative:

Schema signs.PNG

Schema sign2

This sign on each side of the saints’ schema is puzzling: they are not simply the Chi-Rho sign that is a monogram for Christ (superimposing the first two capital letters chi and rho (ΧΡ) of the Greek word “ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ” =Christ). The sign we see in the schemata of the first four leaders seem to contain two superimposed chi and it is not clear if they are actually superimposed on rho: the “letter” – if it was a letter – superimposed on is strange. I don’t know the meaning or significance of that. In an email exchange with Dr Elizabeth Bolman, she does not seem to recognise the meaning of the symbol.

Any contribution by Coptologists on the meaning and significance of the symbol will be greatly appreciated!


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Costas Papathanasiou permalink
    August 22, 2019 11:02 am

    Dear Sir,
    It seems that the sign on the schema of the archimandrites, the meaning of which you asked for, is a multiple symbol for fish, for a lot of reasons:

    ▪First, you can see the central line as the letter I (“Iota”), then the upper diagonal cross or saltire as a X (“Chi”), the central rhombus as an horizontal(: 90º-slanted) “Theta”[ Θ ], the two down sides of rhombus and the “tail” of the sign as Y(“Upsilon”), lastly, on the left half of the sign, you can find four lines forming the letter “Sigma” [Σ] , therefore you can spell the acronym “ichthys(=fish)” [ : Ι.Χ.Θ.Υ.Σ.=Jesus Christ God’s Son, Savior).

    ▪Furthermore, you can see the central rhombus as the superimposed bodies of four fishes, leaving their caudal fins up-down and left-right, implying the believers coming in Church from all around the world, also, it could be seen as a typical mandorla for Jesus, that is usually holded by four archangels.

    ▪Finally, the upper edge of the sign could be interpreted as a simple fish facing down or/and as an up-facing “aleph”(for ox, Isis-Apis) or“alpha” (for the first of God’s believers, that is an archimandrite).
    Besides that, the upper edge could be the cranium of a fish with open jaws−praying at or feeded by the Sky−
    and the central line with the crossed rays could be its spine, thus the hole symbol could be seen as the
    non-flesh spirituality of a God-seeking Holy Man and, if so, we could say that it is a ‘fishbone cross”.

    Sincerely yours
    Costas Papathanassiou- Chemical Emgineer
    GREECE-Karditsa August, 22 2019

    • Dioscorus Boles permalink*
      August 22, 2019 11:23 am

      Thank you, Costas, for a very interesting interpretation of the sign. I like it. Do you know of any other place where this sign has been used?


      • Costas Papathanasiou permalink
        August 25, 2019 12:35 pm

        I’ve just started a little research on it without finding an identical sign used elsewhere(the lack of data for the artist who made it does not help at all) and I am not sure that we could find one, because I believe that it is just a discreet emblem for distinguished men not suitable for other people.
        However we can be sure for two things:
        ▪The sign is definitely a type of cross provided that it is positioned on an “omophorion” [literally”shoulder-borne” from Greek. ὦμος (shoulder) + φέρω(bear), that is the wide strip of wool fabric worn by the shoulders and that is symbolizing for orthodox Christians the lost lamb found and carried by the good shepherd, compare “monastic scapular”]
        ▪ Any complex new form has a simplest old origin

        −So, starting just with a simple circular curve you can symbolize a crescent and the human pregnancy too, implying the worship of a Mother Goddess.
        −Joining the curve with its mirroring one, you can have a Vesica piscis, that would be a symbol for woman’s womb, worth mentioning the Ancient Creek word “delphys”(=womb), its derivative “adelphos”(=brother) and the story of Zeus who discovered the centre(:”omphalos”=navel) of his grandmother Earth(Gaia) at the site of Delphi where, as Homer said, Apollo −the god of Sun among others− came in the shape of a dolphin (another word correlated with “delphys”) and founded his Oracle (therefore you can see the marriage of three elements sky-earth-sea and a freudian analysis too in this myth)
        −The one-edge crossing of the two curves generates a fish shape, an “ichtys”, the secret recognition sign for the Christian Brotherhood.
        −If you intersect both edges of the Vesica piscis curves, you create a zodiac symbol for Pisces(two overlapped fishes in different directions)
        −By combining three Vesica piscis is created a Triquetra symbol of Trinity that you can find in Constantine War Memorial and in the Mjollnir too, as an ornamental element.
        −By a 90° clockwise rotation of the rune for O (“opila-“ meaning “heritage, estate, possession”) you can have a “Chi-Rho”monogram and a rhomboid fish too, then, if you overlap its mirror-image, you can invent a symbol that combines the three signs of the rune for the ‘eng’ letter *ingwaz (: /n/), that had the meaning of “the god Yngvi”.
        −If you close the curve forming a circle you can have a solar disc and if you divide it by a cross you can have a Christ Monogram (XP or IX) together with the letter “theta” for “Theos”-God
        −If you put a curve on a circle you have an up-facing alpha or a down-facing rounded fish, and if you close the curve as loop over a Tau you have an Ankh or Crux Ansata.
        −If you divide the disc in eight equal parts by two crosses, you can have again an “ichtys” symbol gaining an Y (“Upsilon” ), that has an angle of 90° on its top, and a “sigma” by the two leftward sloping rays and the upper and lower 90° arcs. [You can also abstract a peace symbol of it and a three-point star too, that is also used as Mercedes-sign to represent−according to the company− the (world) domination of its engines all over land, sea and air. In addition, a laurel wreath that surrounds company’s star lead us back to Apollo’s myth].
        −The 90° clockwise rotation of a capital Omega give us, one more time, a bulky fish and if you write an A on the left of a classic chi-rho christogram and an Omega on its right, you can have the message that “Christ is the Start and the End”and you can also spell the Greek verb ΑΡΧΩ (‘archo=I lead,I rule), keeping this time the “Rho” with a rounded “belly” and that could bring us back to our start and so on…

        Conclusively, scribal symbols are just signs for what is seen, what we are and what we have to do, remaining always simple lines without actual changes. It changes only the meaning that we are giving to them according to our evolution of thinking.
        So, relating to the mentioned “omophorion-sign” it seems that it is a cross that combines at least an Ankh and a christogram of rhomboid fish (or “upila-“ rune), bearing on it all related old meanings.
        A new meaning given by us in respect to the erimitical monasticism and its founders, could be that it represents a Sky-fed fishbone, or a crown-thorn of a God in the shape of man “hanging on a stake” for Human salvation.
        We could also say, just to amuse ourselves and especially young guys, keeping also a monk’s Cell in mind, that a humble hermit sent a hashtag(#) with fishes(<), kisses (xx) and love for all the world, from his Cell-phone.
        But if we want to be serious, we must finally to say that the great meaning of this sign is that each man has his own cross to carry for a common salvation…



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