Sunday, 25 June 2006

Marks of Christ?

I never thought I'd post on the subject of Christian tattoos! I don’t find tattoos a very appealing subject, partly because I have to pass a rather seedy tattooing shop every time I walk to my local station. However, one of the books I’m reading at the moment is Nick Groom’s fascinating The Union Jack: The Story of the British Flag. In looking at human signs and symbols, he notes that the ancient Britons were famed for their tattoos – indeed (and I didn’t know this), the word ‘Briton’ literally means ‘people of the designs’ (from the Celtic Priteni). At least, that’s one theory.

Tattooing, says Groom, was popular among the early Christians, although the custom was later prohibited by the Church. Some scholars believe that St Paul himself was tattooed with Christian symbols, as possibly indicated by his admission, ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus’ (Gal 6:17).

This inspired me to put 'Christian tattoos' into Google, which came up with some interesting info. A fifth century monk is reported to having a tattoo on his thigh that read: Manim, the disciple of Jesus Christ. In a commentary on Isaiah written in 528, Procopius of Gaza reported that many Christians were tattooed on the arms with a cross or Christ's name. Christian pilgrims arriving in the Holy Land often received tattoos as an indelible souvenir of the event, while medieval Crusaders sometimes had tattoos of the cross on their hands or feet to indicate their desire for Christian burial.

A bit of trivia: Did you know that Edward VII, George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Tsar Nicholas II (an Orthodox saint) and Winston Churchill all sported tattoos? Such are the curious byways of history.


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