Not Prepared to Donate?

Here are 5 ways you can still help Aleteia:

  1. Pray for our team and the success of our mission
  2. Talk about Aleteia in your parish
  3. Share Aleteia content with friends and family
  4. Turn off your ad blockers when you visit
  5. Subscribe to our free newsletter and read us daily
Thank you!
Team Aleteia

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here

Reading Christian art: 5 Common abbreviations and what they mean


How to decode those letters and monograms we encounter in Christian art.

When looking at Christian art or walking through a Catholic church, you might run into several different combinations of letters. To the untrained eye, some decoding is necessary.

Besides the various different monograms of Jesus’ name (IHS) or Greek letters like the Alpha and Omega, there are other abbreviations you should know.

Here are five of the most common:

BVM – Often seen on altars dedicated to Our Lady, BVM is a simple abbreviation of “Blessed Virgin Mary” in English or in Latin “Beatam Mariam Virginem.” The letters are often superimposed on each other or intertwined in a decorative fashion.

IHM – Another Marian abbreviation, it stands for “Immaculate Heart of Mary” in English.

S or SS – Sometimes an image or altar in a church will have a monogram, indicating the name of a saint. “SJ” is one of the most common abbreviations and typically stands for St. Joseph. Additionally, there are times when two saints are referred to, and two S’s are put in front of their initials. “SSPP” is a common abbreviation for Sts. Peter and Paul.

AMDG – Frequently found in Jesuit churches, “AMDG” refers to a Latin phrase, Ad maiorem Dei gloriam (“For the greater glory of God”). A favorite phrase of St. Ignatius, AMDG is the motto of the Jesuit order and a foundational concept of Jesuit spirituality.

ND – This abbreviation is less common, but is frequently used in churches with French influence. It stands for Notre Dame, which in French means “Our Lady” and refers to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.
Aleteia offers you this space to comment on articles. This space should always reflect Aleteia values.
[See Comment Policy]