There’s a lot to-do about tattoos.
Should you get them, should you not; will you like them later in life, will you not; does the Church approve of them, does she not; would Jesus get a tattoo?
At the turn of the 20th century, tattoos as we know them today made their way into the mainstream of American society. What started out as a marker for circus sideshow workers slowly evolved to tokens of sailors’ journeys, then cosmetic replacements, and eventually to forms of expression and art. Though this is where we see the evolution of tattoos today, they have a much deeper history that has roots back in an ancient era, approximately 3300 B.C.
Remains and other signs of ancient civilizations practicing tattoos have been found across the globe. Most especially in Egypt, where this history goes back further than most other places in the world. In the remains of the early Egyptian culture, we can see many mummies, statues, and depictions of women who are inked. Historians believe that these tattoos point to a form of protection and fertility, as the most common tattoos are located on the legs, stomach, and breasts. It is thought that during pregnancy, women would receive these marks as a form of safety net and good luck. As time went on, tattoos started to expand, appearing on men as well, and indicating that the wearer belonged to something: whether that be a family, a household, an organization, or a religion.
While the act of tattooing has been around for a while, there have been few establishments that have been around as long to continuously tattoo patrons. One of which is Razzouk Tattoo, located in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Razzouk Tattoo has been in the business of inking pilgrims since 1300, when the family came from Egypt to Jerusalem on pilgrimage, and then decided to stay and set up shop. Active as “tattooers” for nearly 700 years, from the beginning of their family trade, they would tattoo Egyptian Copts with religious symbols so that they would be able to more easily enter churches to worship. Today, they still tattoo Christians, with the same religious symbolism that has been in use for hundreds of years. The exact same symbolism, in fact, because the stamps that are used to create pieces today have been in use for as long as pilgrims have been getting tattoos in Jerusalem. The stamps include scenes of the Crucifixion, Our Lady, and the Jerusalem Cross, among many other images.
Even today, it is still popular for Holy Land pilgrims to get tattoos at Razzouk’s to commemorate their pilgrimage – just like the Crusaders and the many centuries of pilgrims that came before them. Oftentimes, the year of the pilgrimage is added below the tattoo, and then added after every additional visit to Jerusalem. This tradition has left some repeat pilgrims with multitudes of permanent souvenirs. Even our own pilgrims decide to stop at this historical shop to take part in this ages-old tradition. If we are to wear our faith on our sleeve, why not make it a tattoo?
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