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Religious Tattoo Overview

The early Christian and Moslem era brought a temporary halt to widespread tattooing in Europe and the Middle East. In the Old Testament of the Bible, the book of Leviticus states, "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord." The problem, it seems, was one of religious competition. The rites of tattooing were a trade mark of the earlier religions in Palestine. When the early Jews tried to ban the marks of their religious competitors (the Arabs and Christians) they crippled the art of tattooing through two millennia. The edict against tattooing gained the favour of Rome and the power of Islam, because the Old Testament is revered by both the Christians and the Moslems.

Jerusalem Cross
Jerusalem Cross

As might be expected this powerful ban could not completely eradicate tattooing from either Europe or the Middle East. Tattooing worked its way back into these religions, by way of their holy pilgrims. In the Middle Ages, people would leave their European villages on pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The only way to prove that you had actually been to the Holy Land was to return with a tattoo from the Coptic priests. They practiced their tattoo art outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Most pilgrims got a simple cross tattoo, but some of the more adventurous ones returned with images of St. George's victory over the dragon, the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus, or Peter and the crowing cock. The tattoo designs were kept on woodblocks and the work was rough, but it was the only proof available, that a pilgrim had actually visited the Holy Land.

Moslem pilgrims visiting Mecca and Medina also received commemorative tattoos. These Moslem pilgrims believed that, by being cremated at death, they would be purified by fire, before entering paradise.

In the Religious Tattoo section we cover:

Arab Tattooing
Jewish Tattooing
Christian Tattooing

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