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Rules, Rubrics and Relations

The IHS monogram


It was next decided to examine the use of the ‘IHS’ monogram and its more quantifiable attributes. The monogram may be variously interpreted as Iesous a rendering of the Greek orthography for ‘Jesus’, Iesus Hominum Salvator (Jesus, saviour of mankind) or In Hoc Signo [Vince] (In this sign, conquer).6 The monogram is easily the most popular single ideogram represented within the Craughwell series of gravestones and occurs in various styles on some 151 examples (62%). Fig. 5a & b illustrates the distributional frequency of the monogram between the two graveyards, showing its continuing popularity from the 1760s until its sudden decline after the 1860s. The ideogram slowly gained prevalence again until the 1930s, falling off thereafter. Individually, the two graveyards show markedly different distributions of the symbol with Killora displaying defined peaks during the 1770s, 1840s and 1910s. By contrast, the monogram remained highly popular at Killogilleen from the 1770s to the 1860s with a secondary peak culminating during the 1930s and 1940s.


However, the form of the monogram has changed markedly over time. The monogram with a cross (usually springing from the cross-bar of the ‘H’) first appeared in the 1760s and enjoyed a high popularity until the 1860s (P1. 3). After this time it disappeared almost completely from the repertoire of local sculptors. A minor but significant variation of an ‘IHS’ monogram with a cross where the ‘I’ was carved in the form of a ‘J’ appeared during the 1810s, peaking during the 1840s (Pl. 4).7 During the 1860s a plain form of the monogram, without a cross, was introduced. Its popularity as a decorational symbol peaked during the 1810s and again during the 1940s.


The use of the entwined variant of the monogram spanned a similar range of popularity, being introduced at both sites during the 1870s (Pl. 5). However, its peak usage was confined to the 1910s and 1930s with a marked absence during the intervening period. The final attribute of the ‘IHS’ monogram analysed was the variety of shapes used to represent the cross-bar of the ‘H’. The most common of these is the use of the omega (Ω). In this context, the omega may be construed as a symbol of death or memento mori (Pl. 6). In a number of cases, the omega is inverted, so that the ‘loop’ is open towards the top (Pl. 7). Although it is merely speculation, it is possible to interpret this as a deconstruction of a death symbol, turning it into a symbol of life and resurrection.


An analogy for this activity may be seen in Medieval sculpture where dragons and other mythical and monstrous beasts are used as emblems of Satan, but are shown with knotted tails, indicating that they have been defeated by Christianity. The author cannot find any references to the omega being used in this manner in other areas of Ireland and the symbol may be peculiar to the west of Ireland. The omega is represented on 25 gravestones (17%). The symbol was introduced during the 1780s, enjoying its height of popularity during the 1810s. Over the next two decades its use declined, being briefly revived during the 1850s. Other designs appear sporadically from the 1790s to the 1980s, though their use is too irregular and infrequent to accurately discuss their true periods of fashion.


[6] Walton (1980, 70) notes that while its origin may be derived from Greek, by the early 17th century it would have been generally understood as standing for Iesus Hominum Salvator.

[7] A plain ‘JHS’ monogram, without a cross springing from the cross-bar of the ‘H’ appears in neither graveyard. The ‘J’ may stand for Iesus where the Latin ‘I’ became transposed into English as a ‘J’.


Figure 5a. Graph of frequency of ‘IHS’ monogram.
Figure 5b. Frequency of variants of the ‘IHS’ monogram.

Top: Figure 5a. Graph of frequency of ‘IHS’ monogram.


Bottom: Figure 5b. Frequency of variants of the ‘IHS’ monogram.

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