Christianity has a longstanding relationship with body art that stretches all the way back to when Coptic Christians wore tattoos as markers of the faith and ethnic identity back in the 16th century. So, it's really no wonder that so many people have similar religiously themed pieces today. Regardless of that notorious passage of scripture from Leviticus that reads, "You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you," there are an incredible number of crosses, the Sacred Heart, and Jesus Christ himself on people's bodies.
1. The Cross
Crosses are hands down the most common Christian motif in the world of tattoos. This symbol references the Passion of Christ, standing as a emblem of self-sacrifice, forgiveness, and, most importantly, redemption. Whether it's a tiny set of intersecting lines along an inner finger or a sizable banger of a ornamental rood on the upper thigh, crosses make for great way to tell the world around you that you're a believer.
2. Jesus Christ
While crosses may be the most frequently seen motif in Christian body art, the wooden object wouldn't be anything other than a torture device if it wasn't for Jesus Christ and his crucifixion. Christ is arguably the most important figure from The Bible and was the driving force responsible for the birth of Christianity, so it only makes sense that he would rise again in the world of body art as well.
Angels — with their majestic wings and serene appearance — are one of the most beautiful Christian icons to have descended from the heavens into tattoos. Like many other motifs, such as depictions of Christ, they look particularly divine when rendered realistically in black and grey, showing how the style gives shape to the unfathomable.
A dove nestled between Mary and Christ by Lil B (IG—lilbtattoo).
Doves have been a symbol of peace in Christianity pretty much ever since the advent of the religion. Their earliest appearance as an figure of peace comes from the first book of the Bible, when one arrives to Noah on the Ark as a sign from God that his wrath had subsided and the flooding would finally stop, and the white bird appears numerous times throughout scripture, always acting as a harbinger of tranquility.
5. Sacred Heart
The idea of the Sacred Heart is a representation of Christ's love for humanity. The figure as we know it today comes from Catholicism. It is associated with the devotion to the Sacred Heart. This holy ritual originated when a nun named Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque claimed to have had visions of Christ, in which he revealed to her his heart. Later on, Christian artists visualized the ideal behind the devotion, giving shape to the flaming, thorn-entangled organ that is commonly seen in traditional tattoos today.
6. Virgin Mary
The Virgin Mary is one of the most iconic figures in all of Christian iconography. She is generally depicted wearing a veil with a halo over her head representing her virginity and holiness. Due to her veneration, the image of Mary is highly celebrated in certain sects of Christianity, especially Catholicism. She is seen as Christ's link to humanity, and is frequently thought of as being emblematic of themes like faithfulness, devotion, humility, and, above all else, purity.
A black and grey Rosary next to a rose by Kevin Fleming (IG—kevinflemingtattoo).
Rosaries are another frequent figure in Christian themed body art. This string of beads with a cross dangling at their center is used in a forms of devotion in the Catholic Church, such as "the Lord's Prayer" and "the Hail Mary." As tattoos, they are generally placed around people's necks or along their wrists, in the same places where their traditionally worn by Christians.
A pristine pair of praying hands by Jamie Mahood (IG—jamiemahood).
8. Praying Hands
They symbolism of praying hands speaks for itself: tattoos of them gesture toward the idea of asking God for guidance, strength, and forgiveness. Interestingly, they are a common motif in Chicano style body art, which complicates their meaning significantly, adding in connotations of race and class inequality.
Eve being tempted by the snake by Tim Senecal (IG—timsenecal).
9. Adam and Eve
The story of Adam and Eve from Genesis is one of the most memorable tales in the entire Bible. This fated couple's saga in the Garden of Eden shapes everything about Christianity. They is responsible for the Fall of Man, having transgressed against God by partaking of fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. This event sets the entire Christian worldview in motion, so it only makes sense that there are tattoos of the duo taking a bite out of the forbidden apple.
10. The Devil
When most people think about Christian iconography, images of holy figures like Christ and the cross are what tends to come to mind, but Christianity wouldn't be what it is without the Devil. That's why he takes number 10 on this list of religious tattoos. Unlike other icons from the religion, having a depiction of this tempter of men on your body suggests that you're anything but pious.
We hope you liked learning a little bit the major Christian motifs that appear in the world of body art. Make sure to follow all of the artists seen here on Instagram. Should you want to get a religious themed piece to demonstrate your faith or lack thereof, have one of them design it.