Holy Ink: Wearing Your Heart Under Your Sleeve

Many people of faith choose to wear a cross around their necks.  It’s a small but constant reminder–to the wearer and to all with whom he or she comes in contact–of an enduring commitment to Christ, and an intent to apply Scriptural wisdom in all of life’s rigors and vagaries.

But what about a tattoo?

There’s a kind of tattoo which screams of rebellion.  Satan and serpents and scorpions:  Those are motifs which threaten the viewer, effigies of evil.  These are reminiscent of the warning of Revelation 13, which cautions against the “Mark of the Beast”.

But there’s another kind  of tattoo which is a kind of memorial to a loved one, a testimony to faith, a sentimental tribute to one’s lifetime  love or an assertion of one’s deepest-held values.

What of that?

St. Sebastian–in inks, and in oils

I ran across a tattoo today which had me thinking:  Personally, I don’t think I’ll be emblazoning the crucifixion across my back any time soon; but what do you think of someone who does that?


"I'll follow you over Kathy. I was probably in more sympathy with your point of ..."

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow…. My ..."
"If you're at all interested in knowing . . . the Catholic Dogma . . ..."

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow…. My ..."
"Thank you, Mrs. Harris! Christmas blessings to you. I hope to see you over at ..."

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow…. My ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Rosalinda Lozano

    Although these tattoos are absolutely beautiful and represent holy images; I feel that tattoos are a sign of pridefulness, a need for constant attention. I have asked my children to take the scripture confirming their bodies as a vessel of the Holy Spirit seriously by respecting it with their actions and I pray they always do, first of all by their pure thoughts and actions, second by protecting themselves from scandal of any kind – including tattoos. My humble thoughts…

    • Adam

      Or is it a sign of pride to judge those who get tattoos for very personal or otherwise good reasons? Having holy images as tattoos can be used for evangelization as my nephew does. It could be a sign of pride to own nice things, but one probably would be prudent in not hastening judgment on people who own nice things. Tattooing is morally neutral territory and the scripture passage you are quoting is being misapplied.

  • Mark_Trail

    I read somewhere that Christians during the time of the Crusades would get tattoos identifying themselves as Christian in case they fell into the hands of Muslims and were made slaves or forced to convert or become slaves. This would be a form of defiance of their Muslim captors, and an outward reminder of their inner faith, which they were not allowed to practice.

  • Oh this reminded me of the Flannery O’Connor short story “Parker’s Back.” That’s one of the great short stories ever written. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.
    I hate tattoos. I find it a desecration of the human body. I don’t mean to imply that it’s sinful, though they may be, I’m no expert on that. I just find them repulsive and I associate them with people of deviant behavior.

    • Adam

      The next time you see a woman with ear rings at Mass, please remind her that she has desecrated her body.

    • Lydia

      If you read Parker’s Back, though, you see at the end it has less to do with the tattoos as tatoos and more with Who is physically emblazoned on his flesh. Also, his wife, the “Christian”who regards tattoos as wicked is the one who ends up badly in O’Connor’s estimation. The tattoos are meant to be a testament to who and what makes Parker-I’m not sure how you can love that story and see tattoos as a desecration. That is a heavy charge.

      • It’s easy to love the story and hate tattoos. I love the story because it’s a fantastic story. Are you implying Flannery loved tattoos? I have no idea whether she did or not, and you can’t tell by the story. She uses tattoos as a symbol. I don’t believe she had any tattoos. I don’t believe tattoos are attractive, especially when one makes a freak out of oneself by tattooing 90% of one’s body.

        • Lydia

          I don’t care for them aesthtically speaking, in most cases (not all). O’Connor loved freaks. She admired what a tattoo *could* imply, and saw them as very nearly sacramental among the lower class protestant majorith in her native Georgia and certainly as sacramental in the story. Parker’s tattoos before the Pantrocrator were symbolic of where he had been, the jungle/passions/bestial quality of his mind. Not so with the Pantocrator image on his back. The resolution of Parker’s Back is the beating of Christ, whom Parker has literally put on. You can see it is symbolic, but the mystical implications in the text are clear (sorry to go on-I’m teaching a course on her this year to a bunch of homeschoolers in Savannah and she’s my current jam). And of course you can dislike tattoos and like the story! I just disagree with your literary interpretation, and I love freaks. 🙂

          • That’s quite alright. It’s been a couple of years since I read the story and it’s obviously not as fresh in my mind as in yours. Your reading of the story seems to be right on the mark. Thanks. 🙂 I guess freaks are interesting but i certainly wouldn’t want my son to be one. Perhaps i incorrectly associate freaks with deviancy, but I can’t help the connection. At a minimum encouraging body tattoos and other “freaky” behavior does that person a disservice. How can one hire someone in a professional position if the person was colored over most of his body?

  • Jordan

    Strangely i stumbled across this page, and imagine my surprise to see my (St Sebastian) Tattoo. To me and my family St. Sebastian, is a guardian if you will, coming from a family of soldiers, that have returned from many tours of service, praying to St. Sebastian daily, it is devotion to a particular saint and a way to constantly remind myself, that I, my brother, father and uncles are here and safe but for the grace if god.

    • kathyschiffer

      Jordan, really? That’s YOU? The Internet is a strange and wonderful place!

      Thank you so much for explaining your motivation for getting this particular tattoo.

      • Jordan

        Yes it most certainly is, the internet is a vast, but small place. I was surprised to see it on here, I really don’t mind you using the photo.

        Your article was really well written, conveying your opinion, without judgement, which in the world of the interent is a welcome change.