Walk into any Lutheran sanctuary and you are likely to see symbols. For those of us familiar with Lutheran churches, these symbols are familiar and comforting. However it’s possible that we still not be familiar with all of them and their meanings. More likely still, visitors less familiar with historic Christian symbols may be confused by them.
Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols is an easy read that provides some basic information on many of the symbols found in Christian sanctuaries. The book is written by a Catholic (and to a small extent for a Catholic audience) so there are a few points in the book where explanation extends to a particular Roman Catholic tradition or doctrine. But by and large, the book is just a simple explanation of Christian symbols. It is illustrated throughout with sketches of actual graffiti, inscriptions, and other ancient artifacts that bear the symbols being discussed. At the end of each brief chapter there are footnotes to writings primarily by the Church Fathers that mention the symbol just discussed.
While there is some mention of the non-Christian associations of some of the symbols, it is not the book’s purpose to treat this aspect of the symbols. Those looking for a more exhaustive treatment of this topic need to look elsewhere. The writing tends more towards the devotional at times rather than the academic.
If you or someone you know is looking for some basic explanations on some of the oldest Christian symbols and why they were selected or used, this is a good introduction. Each of the symbols – both the more common and the less common – seem to be included because of their very early or very widespread usage and/or attestation. Use this book as part of a reading group or study groups for Christians of all ages. It might be useful to utilize this book alongside Behold the Lamb: An Introduction to Christian Symbolism by Pam Nielsen and published by CPH.