The Symbols that Make Up the Paintings
By Father Alan Oakes, C.S.P.
When you visit painted churches you will find all sorts of symbols painted on the walls or produced in the stained glass. The meanings represented by these symbols are becoming less known to the average person. Here are some that you will see repeatedly in painted churches.
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If you doze off in the middle of the priest's homily and just happen to look up at the ceiling of the church in Praha, you will gaze upon what is called the All-Seeing Eye of God. The symbol, usually framed in a triangle is a reminder of God the Father's omniscience. As Psalm 33 says, "Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him." It's a sure way to wake up a sleepy parishioner.
The Initials IHS
No this isn't a dollar sign urging the faithful to give more. Saint Bernadine of Siena was believed to have popularized the initials IHS in the 1400s. In the stained glass above the doorway to the Ammansville church the initials are placed one on top of another so they look like a dollar sign. The Greek spelling for Jesus is IHCOYC. However, in Latin the Greek C was changed to a Latin S -- so IHS is an abbreviation that stands for Jesus. The initials have taken on other meanings over time. In German IHS is said to refer to Jesus, Heiland, Seligmacher (Jesus, Lord, Savior). In English sometimes one hears the explanation, "I (Christ) Have Suffered."
The Lamb of God
The lamb is a symbol for Jesus the Christ. Upon looking at Jesus, John the Baptist cried out, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world." (John, 1:29) The image of the Lamb in the High Hill church is lying down -- representing the suffering and burden-carrying aspects of Jesus. The staff embraced by the Lamb is cross shaped -- reminding us of the cross Jesus died on that brings us salvation. The white flag with the red cross symbolizes resurrection -- The Lamb of God conquers sin and death to save the world.
This is the most commonly used symbol for the Holy Spirit. In the story of Jesus' own baptism, the Holy Spirit is said to have descended "like a dove." (Mark, 1:10) The dove in this High Hill stained glass window, is in a triangle that represents the Trinity -- the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The radiant glow coming from the beak of the dove represents the flowing light of God's grace.
The cross over the entrance of the older St. Mary's in Fredericksburg is called the Maltese Cross. It represents the cross Jesus was crucified on. But the Maltese Cross is unique. It has eight points, representing the eight beatitudes from Jesus' sermon on the mount. (Matthew, 5:3-10)