When Jesus was crucified, so the story goes, Pontius Pilate affixed a sign to the cross which read “JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS” . On most crucifixes, this mocking title is represented by initials on a sign over Jesus’s head. On Catholic crucifixes, the sign says INRI, short for the Latin Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum; on most Orthodox crucifixes, the sign says ΙΝΒΙ, short for the Greek Iesous ho Nazoraios ho Basileus ton Ioudaion (Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος ὁ Bασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων).

Georgians, on the other hand, use their own language: ႨႬႫჀ (INMH), for Iesu Nazareveli Meupey Huriatay (იესუ ნაზარეველი მეუფჱ ჰურიათაჲ).

georgian crucifix

Historically speaking, this makes no sense. According to John, the sign was written in Hebrew (or Aramaic), Latin, and Greek. Even if you have doubts the existence of Jesus, it’s a safe bet that if anything was written about Jesus, it was written in one of those languages and not in Georgian, the alphabet of which wouldn’t even have existed for another three or four hundred years. Still, Georgian* is the liturgical language of Georgian Christianity, and iconography is supposed to represent spiritual reality rather than depict events as they occurred, so we can overlook this point.

*Actually, the language used is not Georgian, but Old Georgian. This accounts for the use of the old asomtavruli letters on the sign and the obsolete letters in the title (ჱ and ჲ). It also explains the use of the antique word huriatay (ჰურიათაჲ) for “Jews”. This is apparently related to the Armenian word hreay (հրեայ, հրեա), which is itself derived from Syriac. I’ve seen amateur speculation that this word is related to the Sumerian city Ur, but I really have no idea.


ႨႬႫႳ (INMO) instead of ႨႬႫჀ (INMH): alternate spelling or stupid error? You be the judge.

But Georgians aren’t the only people who use a historically nonsensical language for this purpose. Slavic Christians sometimes use the letters ІНЦІ (INTsI). I can’t figure out how to copy the Church Slavonic text because it’s written in weird Early Cyrillic alphabet, but the interesting word is the third one, Црь (Tsr’).

russian crucifixion

Jesus, Tsar of the Jews

Ethiopians, too, use their own language for the title — specifically, the ancient Ge’ez language (rather than the modern Amharic). I don’t know that language, or that alphabet, or much of anything about Ethiopian Christianity, except that it is a monophysite church related to the Armenian church (see the Georgia Q&A for details). That said, I’m pretty sure the initial used are ኢናንአ. The Ethiopian alphabet is an alphasyllabic abugida, and I don’t understand how to transliterate it. Still, those are the letters I think are in the picture below, and I checked them against the appropriate words in an Amharic dictionary.

ethiopian crucifixion

I would have expected Armenians to use their own language too, but I can find very little evidence of this through Google searching. The best I’ve found is this document, which features cross-shaped blocks of text below the letters ՅՆԹՀ (YNTH). This makes sense, since the Armenian phrase is Յիսուս Նազովրեցի՝ Հրեաներուն թագաւորը. The last two letters are reversed because, as a commenter pointed out, Armenian is flexible when it comes to word order (“King of the Jews” vs. “Jews’ King”). Is this letter order canonical or not?

armenian cross

UPDATE (2/5/15): On my recent trip to Armenia, I made sure to keep an eye out for Armenian cross letters to see if they were used. Sure enough, they are, and as I suspected before, the letters are ՅՆԹՀ (YNTH).

armenian crucifix

An Armenian crucifix displayed at the Echmiadzin Cathedral near Yerevan

That’s about as good as I can do, since I don’t know much about this stuff. If any readers have any corrections, suggestions, ideas, advice, or leads of any sort, I would like to hear them.

inri horse


 Since I’m not usually on the topic of religion, I’ll take this opportunity to discuss three unusual crosses that can be found in Georgia (unusual, that is, from the standpoint of someone familiar with Western Christianity).

The first is the Orthodox cross. It has three crossbars, representing, from top to bottom: the titulus crucis (the board on which Pilate wrote KING OF THE JEWS), the plank to which Jesus was nailed, and the suppedaneum (the plank on which Jesus’s feet rested). The suppedaneum is usually tilted right-foot-side-up.

orthodox cross

The second is the Bolnisi cross. This is the one in the corners of the Georgian flag. It comes from the Bolnisi Sioni, the oldest church in Georgia. It accompanies the oldest known example of the Georgian alphabet. I don’t know if it has any intrinsic significance.

bolnisi cross

Last is my favorite, St. Nino’s cross. It looks like a normal cross, except that its arms are bent downwards slightly.

st ninos cross

The Nino cross is sometimes called the grapevine cross. I prefer “St. Nino’s cross”, since “grapevine cross” just makes me think of Marvin Gaye. True story: I tried to make one of these out of actual grapevines. It didn’t turn out very well, mostly because I tried to tie it together with grass (Nino used her own hair to make her cross).

grapevine cross

St. Nino brought Christianity to Georgia from Cappadocia in the early 300s. For this, she was later granted the title equal-to-the-apostles. Her tomb is at the Bodbe Monastery in Kakheti. I’ve been there. It’s a nice place.

st nino

Bible Resources:

  • Lexicity: “the first and only comprehensive index for ancient language resources on the internet”
  • Unbound Bible (side-by-side-by-side-by-side text comparison in a wide variety of languages)

16 thoughts on “INRI, ΙΝΒΙ…ႨႬႫჀ

  1. Pingback: Flags of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, etc | georgiasomethingyouknowwhatever

  2. I personally think the St. Nino cross is an awesome symbol of Georgian identity. To clarify about the ՅՆԹՀ sitch, Armenian has noun declension like Georgian so you could write «Հրեաների Թագավորը» or «Թագավոր Հրեաների.» I guess it would kinda be like “King of the Jews” and “the Jews’ King.” Can’t wait ’til the next post!

  3. If St. Nino introduced Christianity to Georgia, why is St. George revered as a national saint (at least it looks that way from the outside) instead of her? St. Patrick did the same in Ireland, and is by far the most revered saint of that nation.

  4. Pingback: Return to the South Caucasus (and gsykw’s new header image) | georgiasomethingyouknowwhatever

  5. For a little more on the Gǝʿǝz (Ethiopic) form, the phrase in John 19:3 has ኢየሱስ ፡ ናዝራዊ ፡ ንጉሦሙ ፡ ለአይሁድ። (Iyäsus Nazrawi Nǝguśomu lä-Ayhud).

  6. Your blog really is a marvelous trove of resources! I’m gratefully using your write-ups while developing the Armenian, Khutsuri (Asomtavruli, Nuskhuri) and Mkhedruli fonts for my polyglot Bible typography project ( If you would want to provide me a shipping address, I would love to send you a copy of my broadsheet, and say thank you for your generous knowledge sharing. Kudos to you!

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