Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Tuesday 21 September |
The Feast of Saint Matthew the Apostle
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

Reading Christian art: 5 Common abbreviations and what they mean


CARFLEO | Fair Use

Philip Kosloski - published on 09/12/17

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.

chi rho

Read more:
The meaning (and the legendary story) of an early Christian symbol


Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Domitille Farret d'Astiès
Attacked with acid as a baby, Anmol Rodriguez overcomes and inspi...
Esteban Pittaro
Argentine “Mother Teresa” was a former model and actress who embr...
Philip Kosloski
Your body is not a “shell” for your spirit
Our Lady of La Salette
Philip Kosloski
How Our Lady of La Salette can give us hope in darkness
Cerith Gardiner
12 Habits of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati that every young adult...
Visalia CHURCH
J-P Mauro
The largest Catholic parish church in the US will soon be in Cali...
Zelda Caldwell
A pilgrimage to Paris’ Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.