Pilgrimage tattoos are an ancient tradition for Christians, stemming back hundreds of years. The tradition stems back to the invasion of Egypt by Muslim armies in the 7th century, where Coptic Christians would be tattooed with a cross on their wrist to identify them to the state. Over time, Copts adopted the tradition by tattooing the cross on themselves voluntarily, serving as a marker for their faith and Christian identity. While the practice has fallen out of popularity, one tattoo shop in Old Jerusalem has been keeping it alive for over 700 years.
Since the crusades, the Razzouk family has been faithfully tattooing Christian pilgrims. Their business began over 700 years ago in 14th century Egypt, however they moved to Jerusalem in the 17th century because of a high demand for skilled tattoo artists. For generations their family have been the go-to for pilgrims looking for a mark of faith to commemorate their holy journeys.
“The tattoo is a symbol of their journey to the Holy Land. It’s a symbol of their identity and it’s something they want to take home as a souvenir, as proof, and as a source of pride of their Christianity and of their pilgrimage to the Holy Land.” – Wassim Razzouk, owner
Their business, “Razzouk Ink,” can be found in a dusty back alley in the Old City of Jerusalem. A sign outside reads “Tattoos With Heritage Since 1300.” Wassim Razzouk, 43, runs the business today, continuing in the footsteps of his now-retired father. Razzouk Ink is so popular with pilgrims, that lines of fifty plus people will wait outside the shop for hours to be inked with traditional designs, such as the Jerusalem cross.
Pilgrims who come to the shop commonly choose a variety of traditional designs from hand-carved olive wood blocks, detailed with intricate images of the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“Those Coptic tattoo blocks are actually considered to be the very beginning of modern-age stenciling techniques. … Lately there has been a lot of demand for using those wooden blocks. Interestingly, more so from Western pilgrims.”
Today, their shop is considered one of the world’s top five destinations for tattooing. Wassim is teaching his son Nizar the family business to continue the century long tradition, and ensure future pilgrims will be able to receive a mark of their journey.
“This is not a tradition and a heritage that is easy to let go of, and I am not going to be the one who is going to stop it or kill it.”
Watch an interview Wassim Razzouk gave with the Times of Israel below: