In the Old City of Jerusalem it’s hard to escape the ancient history that’s still alive within its walls. A simple smartphone search can send you on a walk to a centuries-old shop, bring you to the steps of a millennium-old Church, or lead you past the 3,000 year-old Temple Mount – all bursting with people and energy. But it’s only within the stone walls of Razzouk Ink that the modern pilgrim can have that history etched onto his or her body for the rest of their lives.
And Christian pilgrims have come to the tattoo artists of the Razzouk family since the Crusades to receive ancient signs of Christian identity and pilgrimage. Even today, as the family uses up-to-date procedures and incorporates contemporary trends into some of their artwork, the Razzouk family still draws upon the history and skills passed down through the generations for nearly three-quarters of a millennium. They also incorporate instruments and designs dating back several hundred years, carrying on one of the world’s oldest tattoo traditions.
A family legacy, written in ink
Wassim Razzouk, 43, is a tattoo artist descending from a centuries-long line in the trade: 700 years to be exact.
“We are Copts, we come from Egypt, and in Egypt there is a tradition of tattooing Christians, and my great, great ancestors were some of those tattooing the Christian Copts,” he told me.
The first evidence of a Christian tattoo tradition traces back to the Holy Land and Egypt as early as the 6th or 7th Century. From there, the tradition spread throughout Eastern Christian communities such as the Ethiopian, Armenian, Syriac and Maronite Churches. To this day, many Coptic Churches require a tattoo of a cross or other proof of Christian faith to enter a church. (Tattoo traditions among groups such as Celtic and Croatian Catholics emerged separately and at a later date.)
With the advent of the Crusades beginning in 1095, the existing practice of tattooing pilgrims to the Holy Land expanded to the European visitors. Numerous accounts dating back to the 1600s describe Christian pilgrims taking part in already long-existing customs of receiving a tattoo upon completing a visit to the Holy City – a custom that survives to this day.
While in the tattoo parlor, I witnessed the Razzouk family help a Roman Catholic bishop from Europe plan a tattoo he hopes to receive once he completes a personal pilgrimage later this year. Only weeks prior, Theophilos, the Coptic Bishop of the Red Sea, came to the Razzouk Family receive a pilgrimage tattoo. Other patrons of the Razzouk family have included Christian leaders of Ethiopia, persecuted Christians, and Christian pilgrims of all denominations from around the globe.
The Razzouk family themselves placed their roots in Jerusalem as pilgrims. After many pilgrimages and several generations of tattooing pilgrims and Christians of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, the Razzouk family relocated permanently to the Holy City around 1750.
“A lot of them decided to come to the Holy Land as pilgrims themselves and decided to stay,” Wassim said. “For the past 500 years, we’ve been tattooing pilgrims in the Holy Land, and it’s been passed down from father to son.”
Artifacts and application
The walls of the shop bear witness to this family legacy. Alongside framed newspaper clippings highlighting the work of Wassim and his father, Anton, are shadow boxes with pictures of the Razzouk tattoo artists that preceded them: Wassim’s grandfather, Yacoub, and great-grandfather, Jirius. And artifacts like an early tattoo machine and a traditional hand tool for manually applying tattoo ink are preserved behind glass.
Historically, Christian tattoo artists created their own inks and used stamps to apply images to the skin, before tracing over them with the tattoo implements. While Wassim does not use the old family ink recipe of soot and wine – using instead sterile inks produced specifically for tattoo application – many of the family’s 168 historic wooden stamps are still in use today.
In ages past, the tattooist would use the carved wooden stamp directly upon the pilgrim’s skin, and then use it as a guide for the traditional tattoo instruments. Today, Wassim stamps the design onto transfer paper, which is then applied to the skin for tracing, similar to the process for more contemporary design transfers.
Over the course of my interview with Wassim, nearly every customer used one of these ancient artifacts as part of their tattoo design. Two women from western Armenia – lands now controlled by eastern Turkey – came in and explained that they had just completed their pilgrimage to the Holy Land and wanted to get a traditional pilgrim’s tattoo with no alterations.
By Adelaide Mena – CNA News
Aug 19, 2017 Comments Off on Pope Condemns “Blind Violence” of Attack in Barcelona
Aug 18, 2017 Comments Off on Road to Europe gets harder for Europe-bound migrants
Aug 18, 2017 Comments Off on Nigerians pay $1.2b in bribes each year
Aug 17, 2017 Comments Off on Police to vet, redeploy 48,000 officers
Jul 11, 2017 Comments Off on Ordained a priest, former Manchester United footballer’s goal is Christ
Jul 11, 2017 Comments Off on Pope Francis creates new path to beatification under ‘offering of life’
Jul 03, 2017 Comments Off on Doctors say it’s a miracle that toddler survived ninth-floor fall
Jul 03, 2017 Comments Off on Rise in priest suicides prompts call for helpline in Ireland
Aug 02, 2017 Comments Off on Joe a young man with passion place to make the world a better placeBy Irene Lamunu Joe Citro grew up in Florida in the United...
Jul 03, 2017 Comments Off on Fr. Peter Tiboni laid to restSleep well faithful servant of God – Born on April...
Aug 02, 2017 Comments Off on Take a gamble and face the unknownBy Venansio Ahabwe To gamble is to handover a valuable...
Jul 03, 2017 Comments Off on Jealously guard your integrity“Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a...
Jun 01, 2017 Comments Off on When death is a source of opportunityDeath is a natural end for all living creatures, including...
May 04, 2017 Comments Off on Get time to be alone, silentBy Venansio Ahabwe “Yahweh God said, ‘It is not good...
Mar 03, 2017 Comments Off on Break the boundaries, reach the heightsBy Venansio Ahabwe Mountains and rivers know the secret of...
Aug 02, 2017 Comments Off on When it is RIGHT to GOSSIPBy Joseline Byakatonda Gossip is a broadcaster without...
May 04, 2017 Comments Off on The New vaccines for typhoid feverBy Dr. Manuela Carugati From 4th to 6th April 2017, Kampala...