By This Sign… (“In hoc signo vinces”)

The appellation I’ve chosen for this image is arguably a bit pretentious. After all its just an old motel chain sign that has been ravaged by the elements—extremely cold, high winds atop a mountain (Afton Mountain) about 40 minutes from where I live in central Virginia. The motel (which has certainly seen better days) is behind and to the right of this angle.

I like the sense of age and passing of time the phrase implies. The combination of the endless sky, the snow-covered loneliness of the mountain and shattered commercial communication makes (what is to me anyway) an obvious statement about the narcissism and arrogance that defines humankind’s nanosecond in the course of eternity.

(Here’s the link to the Wikipedia site where I got all the info that follows: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_hoc_signo_vinces )

“By This Sign…” is of course an allusion to the Latin motto In hoc signo vinces which is commonly translated as “By this sign” or “in this sign” “you will conquer” or “you will be victorious.”

For those of you not well versed in Roman History it refers to a legend chronicled by Eusebius of Caesarea, c. AD 263–339, called Eusebius Pamphili, Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine  about the year 314. Eusebius, historian, exegete and polemicist is one of the more renowned [Christian] Church Fathers.

Eusebius reports that the Roman Emperor Constantine was marching with his army just before the Battle of Milvian Bridge against Maxentius on 28 October 312 when he looked up to the sun and saw a cross of light above it with the Greek words “εν τούτῳ νίκα” (“by this, be victorious!”, often rendered in Latin as In hoc signo vinces). At first, Constantine  didn’t know the meaning of the apparition, but the following night, he had a dream in which Christ explained to him that he should use the sign against his enemies. As those of you familiar with this bit of ancient history know, Constantine went on the win the battle and Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. I’m sure the irony is not lost on those of you who are still awake at this point in these comment. As you will remember– not too many years before–the Roman Empire was persecuting Christians–feeding them to lions for the amusement of the masses–for example.

Since then the phrase “In hoc signo vinces” has been appropriated by (probably) thousands of agencies, organizations, families, military groups, businesses and entrepreneurs to legitimize, promote or celebrate whatever laudable or nefarious activities or causes they believe in, are pushing or pursuing.

Here are a small (very small) percentage of applications this phrase has found:

The motto appears prominently on four of the six regimental colors of the Irish Brigade that served in the armies of France from 1690 to 1792.

It was also used as a motto by the Portuguese monarchy.

It is the motto of the Royal Army Chaplains Department Motto of the Royal Army Chaplains Department.

It appears on the Insignia of the U.S. Marines All-Weather Fighter-Attack Squadron 533.

It is the motto of Santa Clara High School, Oxnard, California, USA.

It’s the Motto of Sigma Chi Fraternity.

It appears on the crest of the Royal Hockey Club Dragons, Antwerp, Belgium.

George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party, wrote a political manifesto called In hoc signo vinces in 1960.

Is a recurring phrase in the HBO series “Carnival” ……………..and last but certainly not least,

It is the motto found on any pack of Pall Mall brand cigarettes.

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