Church Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

Church Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

Religious tattoos are a common theme in the tattoo community, celebrating the faith of the individuals who bear them. If you’re looking for a religious tattoo that’s a little outside the mainstream and allows for more individuality, you might consider a church tattoo.

Church tattoos have a number of meanings, and an almost endless variation in styles and details. The meanings associated can be almost as varied as the images themselves, a testament to the diversity of personal expressions of faith.

This article looks at the history, symbolism and meanings of church tattoos down through the ages.


What Is The History of Church Tattoos?

Religious tattoos have been used as a proof of faith for hundreds of years, since long before Christianity entered the religious scene. Among Christians, tattoos have carried a number of meanings, but were primarily used to symbolize faith and dedication to their beliefs.

As far back as the 6th century AD, small tattoos, usually crosses, were used to represent pilgrimages, or to present proof of faith when seeking sanctuary from  religious persecution. Despite a later ruling that prohibited tattoos, both imagery and meanings continued to be a part of the Christian community.

There is no specific mention of when the imagery began to expand from simple, small crosses to larger more elaborate depictions such as saints and churches. Nonetheless, today churches are a common representation of personal faith and individual expression combined.


What Do Church Tattoos Symbolize?

Church tattoos can symbolize a number of things.

However, the most common symbolism is also the oldest: the church tattoo is most commonly used as a symbol of an individual’s faith and their fellowship within the family of Christianity.

As a more specific meaning, a church tattoo can symbolize a personal relationship with Christ. It might also be a physical, and literal, representation of the saying ‘my body is a temple’.


What Do Church Tattoos Symbolize When Paired with Other Images?

Church tattoos are often paired with other images for a more personal meaning.

Church With/On Flames:

The most common image is a church paired with flames, or a church in flames. This can symbolize a number of things, such as the change of life.

It can also represent a ‘Flame of the Holy Spirit’ consuming a physical structure, good overcoming evil.

Church and Moon:

Another common depiction is a church under a crescent moon, which can symbolize a connection with the Virgin Mary, who is often represented standing on a crescent moon in art.

It can also symbolize divine revelations and an event of cosmic significance.

Church and Human Images:

A church depicted with a human figure is often meant to symbolize a personal connection to a specific religious figure.

The most common depictions are Christ or the Virgin Mary, but individuals may also choose a patron saint to incorporate into the image.


What Do Church Tattoos Mean?

The meaning of a church tattoo is often a matter of personal interpretation. However, there are some common meanings to certain images.

The MOST common  meaning is that the person follows a specific faith. Christianity is one of the more common, but members of other faiths have also used tattooed images of their churches (or mosques) to represent their faith.

A burning church tattoo has recently taken a new meaning.

– Church burnings were often seen as the triumph of evil, and a relatively new movement has taken the sign of the burning church to have the opposite meaning – the triumph of the Fire of the Holy Spirit, and therefore the rise of good over evil.

– Burning church tattoos also sometimes represent a spiritual transition from one stage of life or one place in a spiritual journey to another.

Other church tattoos may have specific details to represent a pilgrimage to a place of religious significance, following the meaning of the earliest religious tattoos.

Likewise, a church tattoo may have specific details to represent a specific branch of the faith, or patronage of a specific religious figure.

When combined with other imagery, the church tattoo often takes on a more personal meaning, which is often known only to the person who chose it.


Where Are Church Tattoos Usually Placed?

Forearms are the most common location for church tattoos, so they can be easily seen. This is true of both very simple images, and highly intricate ones.

Small images can be placed on the wrists as well.

Other, more detailed and involved images can be placed on the upper arms.

Many individuals have chosen to show their faith with full-body church tattoos on the abdomen or the back. These are generally highly intricate, and resemble cathedrals in design.

Smaller church tattoos are sometimes placed on the rib-cage as well.

Though much less common, church tattoos have occasionally been placed on the upper or lower leg.

A few individuals have also placed small but intricate church tattoos on the back of the neck.


Characteristics and Styles of Church Tattoos:

Church tattoos come in an amazing variety of designs, as diverse as the journey’s of faith that inspire them and the beliefs they represent.

– A small, simple church with a single steeple, with basic lines is a common representation, and one of the ones most often used with simple, almost cartoon-style flames in burning churches.

– Intricate cathedral style tattoos are common, sometimes ornamented with flowers, a rising moon, or stained glass representations.

– Black and white ink-painting style tattoos are very common. Color is most often used in red and yellow flames of the burning church images.

– Realistic designs are common, especially in more detailed images.

– Images can also incorporate quotes or invocations as part of the depiction.

However you choose to style your church tattoo, and whatever meaning you attach to it, there are an endless number of ways to make this image your own. If you’re looking for a way to illustrate your faith and your personal spiritual influences, a church tattoo may be exactly what you want.

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