Much of the information contained on this website has been drawn from the excellent guidebook to St Cynllo's written by Rev. Brian Whatmore - this lovingly written and scholarly guide is highly recommended for those who would like to learn more about the history of this beautiful Church.
Copies of the guidebook
are available at the
From the time of the third century the names of our Lord were sometimes shortened, particularly in Christian inscriptions (IH and XP, for Jesus and Christus). In the next century the "sigla" (chi-rho) occured not only as an abbreviation but also as a symbol. From the beginning, however, in Christian inscriptions the nomina sacra, or names of Jesus Christ, were shortened by contraction, thus IC and XC or IHS and XPS for Iesous Christos. These Greek monograms continued to be used in Latin during the Middle Ages
The letters IHS are a Latinized form of the first three letters of the Greek version of the name “Jesus”
The full Greek form would normally be: IHΣOYΣ but the letter Σ (sigma) is often converted to an S.
The symbol appears in many places at St Cynllo's both inside and outside the church. It is also written in many different styles.
The "Chi Rho" symbol. Of the several sacred monograms of Christ, the Chi Rho is one of the most ancient. It is generally formed of the Greek letters chi (X) and rho (P). These are the first letters of the Greek word "XPICTOC" (pronounced Christos), which means "Christ."
The ceiling of the Chancel is constructed of wooden panels covered in painted symbols
The four Evangelists, Mathew, Mark, Luke & John, & their respective symbols, are seen all around the church (they being the authors of the four gospels that make up much of the New Testament in the Bible) To be able to distinguish one Evangelist from another, they have their own individual symbol.
St Mathew has an angel (winged man) St Mark a winged lion.
St Luke a bull, and St John an eagle.
The origins of the symbols are connected to the opening image of their gospels.
St Mathew begins his account of the life of Christ by writing of his ancestry & hence, has as his symbol, a winged man.
St Mark has the winged lion, as he begins his gospel with St John the Baptist & writes that he is ‘preaching like a lion roaring’.
St Luke starts his book with Zachariah (father of St John the Baptist) making a sacrifice in the Holy of Holies temple, so he is shown with a bull, which is traditionally an animal used in religious sacrifice.
St John, who is accompanied by an eagle, begins his book with ‘In the beginning was the word and the word was God’. The eagle is the animal which soars the highest in the sky &, it was believed, was able to look directly into the sun with open eyes.
According to legend, in a time of famine a mother pelican would draw blood from her own chest and give the blood to her chicks.
Thus the pelican symbol in Christianity, also called pelican-in-her-piety, symbolizes the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (because he gave his blood for others) as well as the Eucharist (because it represents Christ's blood and provides spiritual nourishment).
The legend became popular in Christian art and was taken up by many later writers, including Shakespeare:
"To his good friend thus wide, I'll open my arms
And, like the kind, life-rendering pelican
Repast them with my blood." (Hamlet, 1616)
In Christian symbolism, the lamb represents Jesus, "the Lamb of God" (Agnus Dei).
Standing with a banner, the lamb represents the risen Christ triumphant over death.
The letters “INRI” are initials for the Latin title that Pontius Pilate had written over the head of Jesus Christ on the cross (John 19:19). Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire.
The words were "Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm." Latin uses “I” instead of the English “J”, and “V” instead of “U” (i.e., Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum). The English translation is "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
The Early Church adopted the first letters of each word of this inscription “INRI” as a symbol. Throughout the centuries INRI has appeared in many images of the crucifixion.