The Razzouk family has been inking religious pilgrims in the Middle East for 700 years.
Source: Inside the World’s Only Surviving Tattoo Shop For Medieval Pilgrims – Atlas Obscura
I am not, as a rule, fond of tattoos – either on myself, or on others. The contemporary drive to get “inked” is one which is largely lost on me; indeed, The Anglophilic Anglican has posted previously in an attempt to discourage that urge: especially on young women, but young men as well. As I commented at the time,
“I have never really liked tattoos. That some of them can be artistically interesting is beside the point: that artistry could have been expressed in a different medium. And I especially don’t care for them on girls and young women – or women in general, for that matter. Now, I’m not necessarily opposed to a small, tasteful, and discretely-placed tattoo on a woman. But anything more reminds me, frankly, of someone spray-painting graffiti all over the Sistine Chapel.”
But I am no longer a young man, and every rule has its exception. This might well be one, should I ever – by God’s grace – be fortunate enough to make it to the Holy Land. Although done in modern fashion for reasons of health and safety, the history, tradition, symbolism, and heritage expressed here is worlds away from the tattoo parlor down the street inking you with your favorite band, an ostensibly “tribal” design from who-knows-what tribe, or even the name of your girlfriend:
“For 700 years the Razzouk family has been tattooing marks of faith. Coptic Christians who settled in Jerusalem four generations ago, the family had learned the craft of tattooing in Egypt, where the devout wear similar inscriptions. Evidence of such tattoos dates back at least as far as the 8th century in Egypt and the 6th century in the Holy Land, where Procopius of Gaza wrote of tattooed Christians bearing designs of crosses and Christ’s name. Early tattoos self-identified indigenous Christians in the Middle East and Egypt. Later, as the faithful came to the Holy Land on pilgrimage, the practice expanded to offer these travelers permanent evidence of their devotion and peregrination…
“Family lore dates the Razzouk’s involvement in this cultural practice to 1300, starting first in Egypt among Coptic (Orthodox) Christians and later in the Holy Land for Christians from a variety of backgrounds… [Pilgrims’ accounts dating to the late 16th century] report designs that have become enduring pilgrimage tattoos, such as the Jerusalem cross—a motif consisting of a central, equal-arm symbol flanked by four smaller versions—along with images of Christ, Latin mottoes, dates in banners, and more.”
I have not changed my generalized views on tattooing, as expressed in that earlier post. But every rule has its exception; and if, as I say, by God’s grace I am ever able to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, this may be the one exception to my personal “no tattoos” rule. A family which has been engaged in the practice for 700 years, since the 1300s? A direct, lineal link with medieval pilgrims, of Chaucer’s age? Using designs – and stencil blocks into which those designs have been carved – known to date back at least to 1749 (one block, for the Jerusalem cross, they say is known to date back 500 years)? Yes. I could do that.
If I did, what design would I choose? Well, I’d take a look at what was available, of course. But I have a feeling I already know: the very one pictured above: the Jerusalem pilgrim’s cross – which was also the sigil of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem – and very likely, the “IHS,” with it. “In Hoc Signo.” In This Sign… Conquer.
Razzouk Tattoos has a website, of course. Everyone does, these days! Even tattooers to medieval pilgrims, with a 700 year history. Perhaps especially them!
There is also a CNN video about them: