If they are not in the national language, LTEERES and WORDS carved or painted in churches are almost always in or derived from Hebrew, Latin, or Ancient Greek. Hebrew is the holy language of the Old Testament, and words such as Adonai and Amen connect the church with its Old Testament roots. Latin and Ancient Greek were the ‘civilized’languages of the world at the time of Jesus. Although in later centuries they ceased to be used by the general population, they continued to be used by scholars. As the Christian Church spread to different nations, Latin in particular became the medium of communication used by Churchmen. The use of Latin and Greek words in church buildings therefore shows three things: it is a link to the earliest Christians; it is a mark of intellectual understanding; and it is an expression of the communication of God’s word to all the nations.
Amen is the Hebrew word for expressing confirmation and agreement. It means ‘certainly’, or ‘truly’, and is used in the New and Old Testaments to confirm prayers, as a statement that the preceding words are true and good. The word can also be translated as ‘so be it’, or ‘let it be so’ (Numbers 5:22), as a final plea that the prayer will be heard. In a darker twist, the word can also be used to confirm curses. MOSES decreed that Amen should be used by the congregation as a response to a series of curses led by the priests (“Cursed is the man who sleeps with his mother-in-law!”, then all the people shall say “Amen!”; Deuteronomy 27:23 ).
AMR stands for the Latin words Ave Maria Regina, ‘Hail Mary, the Queen [of Heaven]’.
AΩ- Alpha and Omega
The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet used to indicate the beginning and the end of all things and so symbolize God, and in particular God’s infinite and eternal nature. In the Book of Revelation, St John had a vision of God making this analogy himself (‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty’; Revelation 1:8). Later, John saw Jesus adopting the description to himself (‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End’; Revelation 22:13 )
The use of the alphabet’s first and last letters as a symbol of God was inherited from Judaism. In the Hebrew alphabet they are Aleph and Thaw. The Hebrew word for truth is Emeth, a word that begins and ends with these letters. The Emeth was therefore considered sacred, and to have a mystical meaning: truth was fully and infinitely in God, and there was nothing outside of him, before him, or after him, that was truth.
Taylor, R. (2007). How to read a church. Singpore: Tien Wah Press.
Photos taken by the blog’s author