We perform a combined X-ray and strong lensing analysis of RX J1347.5-1145, one of the most luminous galaxy clusters at X-ray wavelengths. We show that evidence from strong lensing alone, based on published Very Large Telescope (VLT) and new Hubble Space Telescope (HST) data, strongly argues in favour of a complex structure. The analysis takes into account arc positions, shapes and orientations, and is done thoroughly in the image plane. The cluster inner regions are well fitted by a bimodal mass distribution, with a total projected mass of Mtot = (9.9 +/-0.3) × 1014Msolarh-1 within a radius of 360kpch-1 (1.5arcmin). Such a complex structure could be a signature of a recent major merger as further supported by X-ray data. A temperature map of the cluster, based on deep Chandra observations, reveals a hot front located between the first main component and an X-ray emitting south-eastern subclump. The map also unveils a filament of cold gas in the innermost regions of the cluster, most probably a cooling wake caused by the motion of the cD inside the cool core region. A merger scenario in the plane of the sky between two dark matter subclumps is consistent with both our lensing and X-ray analyses, and can explain previous discrepancies with mass estimates based on the virial theorem.