While there was a time not long ago when the Catholic faith frowned upon tattoos, now they are widely accepted and celebrated among devoted followers, as well as admirers of the religion’s poignant symbolism.
The cross is among the most widely recognized symbols in the world, and there are countless tattoo renditions of every size and style.
Some opt for an ornate cross of Medieval detail, while others prefer a cruder rendering more in line with the original cross that Jesus Christ was crucified on. In many designs Christ himself is incorporated, either directly or in profile. 3D crosses are also becoming a popular and eye-catching way to proudly show one’s spiritual pride in a creatively nuanced fashion.
The Virgin Mary is one of the most sacred figures in the world, a protector and vessel of hope in the Catholic faith and for casual believers alike, and her portrait has made its way into numerous tattoo homages. Her image a welcome sight in treasured icons, cathedral art, and courtly paintings, the serene and loving mother of Christ has long been a subject of pride for skilled tattoo artists, as well as those who adorn themselves with their masterpieces.
You needn’t be a fervent Catholic to enjoy the rich and varied tattoo artwork available, with elegant symbols such as the sacred heart or white dove serving as simple reminders of the faith that enables each of us to pursue our lives with courage and kindness.
Perhaps you prefer a tattooed depiction of your own guardian angel, gracing your forearm or shoulder in gentle protection? Regardless of your tattoo preferences, there is an abundance of inspiration from which to draw.
This is an excellent piece that uses black and gray shading to perfectly capture the image of Jesus on the wearer’s arm. The gradation of tones, from full saturated black all the way to negative space, is smooth and consistent, allowing for subtle shading to create the effect of carved marble. The attention to detail and uniformity in the way the shadows fall on the face is also impressive: often times, small inconsistencies in shading can be distracting and hurt the visual appeal from the tattoo, but this piece doesn’t suffer from this common mistake. This is an impressive design that puts the wearer’s faith on full display.
This is another excellent black and gray back piece that uses expert shading to create a large, beautiful tattoo. The eye is instantly drawn to the forlorn expression on Mary’s face, and while the shading here is impressive, the really notable work is in the folds of the cloth. The artist perfectly captures the different shades and tones in the wrinkles, creases and folds of Mary’s gathered dress, which is no small feat. The size and placement are also interesting: the choice of this image, with the figure’s head slightly tilted to one side is an interesting choice and helps to create a more dynamic design that follows the natural lines of the wearer’s body, but maintains a pleasing asymmetry.
This full back piece is a truly incredible tattoo and an impressive display of the wearer’s faith and dedication. The crucifixion of Christ on Golgotha is one of the most dramatic scenes in the bible, and this artist captured it in incredible detail. There are many aspects of this design that refer directly to biblical passages, demonstrating the wearer’s knowledge and respect for their faith. The consistent, well-executed black and gray shading is remarkable and the artist’s use of a limited palette of yellow and gold tones for the rays of the sun is highlighted by the otherwise gray wash scene. The composition is also well planned and expertly applied: the artist is able to achieve a balance that still allows for certain asymmetries and leaves the tattoo feeling natural and organic.
Here is a wonderful tattoo that uses some elements of American traditional design and incorporates them into a unique tattoo. The artist’s use of bright colors and bold black lines gives this memorial to St. Patrick—complete with clover—the impression of the stained glass windows that adorn and illuminate Catholic Churches. The gradation of colors and tones in the folds of the robes expertly capture the way light falls across the body, creating a striking and accurate depiction of the patron saint of Ireland. The artist’s incorporation of a free-flowing, rainbow pattern to create the border for this piece is also worth noting for its untraditional, but successful composition.
This is an excellent example of how appealing smooth, well-executed script can be on its own. The artist found a line that runs parallel to the shoulders and used a slightly ornate cursive script to enhance the simple name. The smooth, consistent lines demonstrate the artist’s skill as well as restraint: others may have expanded this into a larger more intricate piece that would distract from the understated appeal of this simple but elegant tattoo.
Catholic Tattoo FAQ’s
Can Catholics get tattoos?
Attitudes change, and the Catholic Church and its stance on tattoos are no exception. There is only one mention of tattoos in the bible, in Leviticus 19:28 and it states “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord.” As with many passages in the bible—specifically the Old Testament—this has its roots in a different time. When this was written, thousands of years ago, many Pagan peoples marked themselves with the names or symbols of their gods, and this law was laid out to set the Hebrews apart from other non-Judeo-Christian peoples. Much like the ban on eating shellfish and mixing two different clothes, this law is far less applicable in the modern world.
Today the Catholic Church is much less strict on whether followers can get tattoos, although certain designs can still elicit gasps at Sunday Mass. Generally, tattoos that are respectful and glorify God, or otherwise demonstrate the wearer’s dedication to their faith, are acceptable, although some in the old guard may still frown upon large pieces. Whatever the Church’s official stance, for many people a tattoo commemorating their faith is the ultimate public display of the importance of God in their life.