Sunday, June 6, 2010

Iona: Chi Rho

For our Spiritual Sunday selection we head to the Inner Hebrides to the island of Iona where a strong Christian presence developed during the first millennia A.D. In 563 A.D., a monastic leader Colm Cille, also known as Columba, was exiled from Ireland and he and 12 followers landed on Iona where they would build a monastery. It is thought that the ancient illuminated manuscript known as the Book of Kells was at least partially produced on Iona during the late 8th century.

Chi Rho page from the Book of Kells (click for a larger version)

This version of the Gospel of Christ contains beautiful illustrations that accompany the hand written text. One of the better known of the 340 folios is the page termed Chi Rho after the first two Greek letters in the word “Christ” – Χριστός. Chi, resembling the Latin X, but producing a “ch” sound and Rho, which appears as the Latin/English letter “P,” but is the equivalent to “R” are the focal point of this page. The Lindisfarne Gospel, produced in the same era, has a Chi Rho page as well. The combined form of these two letters or Christogram () has been in use since the time of Constantine who is said to be the first to utilize this symbol that has continued to the present. Actually, both manuscript examples add the third letter of Χριστός - an iota or Greek equivalent of "I."

Chi Rho page from the Lindisfarne Gospel (click for a larger version)

The progressive/Christian Celtic band Iona took their name from the island where three principal members of the band met in the late 1980s. In 1992, Iona released the concept LP: “The Book of Kells.” “Chi Rho” was the featured cut from the LP and quickly became one of their fans’ favorite pieces. The only problem with the song is that lead vocalist Joanne Hogg mispronounces the Greek letters (take it from me – I have a minor in Greek). While she sings “Chee” – Ro, the correct pronunciation of Chi is “Kie”; therefore, the title should sound similar to the capital of Egypt – “Cairo.” Despite the obvious (from a Greek perspective) mispronunciation, the message filters through.

Live Version from Dutch Television

Studio Version


Verse 1
Color of green
Green for the vine
For the leaves and the branches
The tree of life

Color of red
Red for the wounds
That are deeper than I can know
How deep the flow

By Him all things, were created
By Him all things, were created
And the fullness, of the Godhead
Is in Him

Verse 2
Color of gold
Gold for a throne
For the light that is blazing
From His face
Colorless white
For purity
White as snow, the colors flow
The mystery of Chi-Rho

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