- The Cross: The cross is perhaps the best known of all Christian symbols. In the ancient Church the cross was usually depicted without the figure of Christ. It was adorned and decorated as a symbol of the victory Christ won through His suffering. For the ancient world it was a symbol of humiliation, but for Christians it was a symbol of victory and glory. In Christian art, the figure of the suffering Christ was added to the cross only in medieval times.
- Light and Darkness: Before the advent of electricity the symbols of light and darkness were, perhaps, more readily appreciated. The Church’s use of these symbols is elemental. Even the orientation of the church buliding (the altar at the east end) is significant. The one liturgy of the Church year where the use of these symbols is most dramatic is the easter Vigil, where the light of one candle representing Christ, is passed on to each one in the assembly, turning darkness into light.
- Alpha and Omega: The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, signifying the Beginning and the End. In the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, Jesus calls Himself the Alpha and the Omega, “The first and the last, the beginning and the end, the one who was, who is, and who is to come.” He is the Word, the First Word through whom all was created, and the Last Word by whom all will be judged.
- Chi Rho: The Greek letters chi and rho (resembling an “X” and a “P”) are often superimposed one on the other. Often the chi is rendered in the form of a cross. This symbol is used to indicate Christ since these letters are the first two letters of the word “Christ” in Greek.
- Bread and Wine/Wheat and Grapes: Because of the bread and wine they produce, the symbols of wheat and grapes are often used to designate the Eucharist.
- IHS: The first three letters of the name Jesus in Greek.
- INRI: These initials are often seen inscribed on a banner or sign on a crucifix. They indicate the first letters of the Latin words which Pilate ordered inscribed above Jesus as He hung on the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” “Iesus Nazerenus Rex Iudeorum.”
- Dove: symbol of the Holy Spirit and used especially in representations of our Lord’s Baptism and the Pentecost.
- Rainbow: Sign of the Covenant with Noah. Its 7 colors (from the top down: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet) recall the 7 Sacraments (7 is the sign of Covenant and completion).
- Scallop shell: the sea shell, especially the scallop shell, is the symbol of Baptism, and is found frequently on Baptismal fonts. The dish used by priests to pour water over the heads of catechumens in Baptism is often scallop-shaped