Where did the 'H' come from? What does it stand for ?
Not 'Harold', as a confused little boy used to say "Our Father who art in heaven, Harold be thy name."
A big clue is found in the Catholic vestment called the chasuble (from hooded cloak, from little house 'casa'.)
It is used for celebrating the eucharist, and has a big 'IHS' on the back :
This is a lovely Jesuit chasuble which also has the cross and the three nails with the IHS symbol.
Chasubles vary a lot, but nearly always have IHS on them :
Note the left one has an unusual red Chi-Rho symbol instead of IHS.
The large X is a Greek letter Chi X ('ch'), and the skinny P is a Greek Rho ρ ('r') - together they spell Xρ ('Chr') an early abbreviation for Christ. (More on Chi-Rho later.)
A common explanation for the IHS is that it stands for Iesous Hominum Salvator - Latin for Jesus, Saviour of Mankind.
Or even Iesous Hierosolymae Salvator (Jesus, Saviour from Jerusalem.)
It's even sometimes connected to In Hoc Signo Vinces (In This Sign You Will Conquer) a visionary message to Constantine the Great before the successful battle which made him ruler of the Roman world :
" In this sign, you will conquer ! "
The 'sign' being a cross apparently. Luckily Constantine had a painter with him that day in 312 for this image :
Actually, if you look closely (click to expand image), you will see the message is actually Greek :
"ἐν τούτῳ νίκα", transliterated as "EN TOYTOI NIKA "
Which means "By this, conquer", later rendered as Latin "In Hoc Signo Vinces" from which we get English "In This Sign You Will Conquer".
in the fourth century the sign of Jesus would have been the Chi-Rho, not the cross at all. Here is such an ancient carved Christian Chi-Rho (Xρ) :
This carving also has the Alpha (Α or α) and Omega (Ω or ω) on it.
It probably boils down to scribe's abbreviations - called Nomina Sacra (meaning Sacred Name obviously.)
The early Christian scribes didn't write out names like 'Jesus Christ' in full, instead they used holy abbreviations for the important words, indicated with a line over the letters :
Here is an example showing Nomina Sacra for 'Jesus' and 'God' :
'IY' stands for Jesus in that particular Greek sentence form - using the first and last letters I and Y. There is no letter 'J' in Greek.
In Greek letters (there was no lower-case yet), 'JESUS' (IESOUS) looks like this : 'IHSOUS'. (Greek 's' can take various forms - Σ, σ, ς, S, or C.)
Some scribes used a three letter abbreviation : 'IHS', which is simply an abbreviation in Greek for 'JESUS' -
IHS = JES
For centuries Catholic Christians watched their priests celebrating the eucharist with the symbol 'IHS' on their back.
As if it stood for something like Jesus H. Saviour.
And thus many imagined that the 'H' after the 'I' for Jesus - was actually Jesus' middle name.
That's how it happened. Probably. :)
So, no it doesn't stand for anything, apart from 'E'.
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