The Monogram Tomb

Written by Michael Moore

February 26, 2017

The Monogram Tomb (loci 65-80) received its name from a sign that was found on a fragment of a broken ossuary.


Dominus Flevit, Photo 75; p. 65, Fig. 17:1

Fr. Bagatti calls this symbol “monogramma costantiniano” which draws from the insignia which Constantine followed into battle and victory, after having seen a vision of it in the heavens. This symbol is also known as the “Christogram,” since the monogram is composed of the first two letters of the Greek word “XPISTOS” (that is, “Christos” or Christ), the letters CHI RHO (XP). However, the actual origin and significance of this symbol before its adoption by Constantine as a Christian symbol has been questioned. Monograms of this type, usually considered engraver’s marks, have been found in such pre-Christian contexts such as the coins of Herod the Great. (The date is to the left of the central image and the engraver’s mark is to the right, following the practice of Seleucid coins and the Tyrian shekels which were currently in use at the temple).




The discovery of this sign, along with the inscribed ossuary which was then read “Simon bar Yonah,” led Bagatti to believe that this tomb belonged to a Judeo-Christian cemetery. In addition, there were ossuaries in this tomb inscribed (primarily in Hebrew) with the names “Shimon”, “Ishmael”, “Martha and Mariam/Maria”, “Salome and her son”, “Philo of Cyrene” (in Greek), “Yehoni the artisan”, “Judah the proselyte” (in Greek) and “Shappira” (Sapphira), “Mariam”, and “Qimi, Yehonatan”.

Besides the “monogramma costantiniano”, other symbols were found on the ossuaries, including an “X” (ossuary no. 6), a serpentine line (no. 9), another “X” and a cross (no. 12) among others, which, more often than not, prove to be lid alignment marks. Alignment marks may often be the insignia or monogram of the engraver or stone mason. However, oftentimes these marks may simply be unique creations, intended both to properly link lids to their specific ossuaries within the workshop and, at the same time, to indicate lid direction. Other examples of such marks, including common, crude signs, like the “X,” were simply intended to indicate lid direction. (In the case that the direction of the lid was not obvious, lid direction marks were added in order that the hand carved lids would be placed in the intended direction during the second burial interment ceremony. Otherwise the lid could dislodge and fall upon and crush the bones inside the ossuary.)



Lid alignment marks in Dominus Flevit, p. 54, Fig. 16.

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