Rosary tattoos are beautiful, reverent, and even sometimes mysterious. Why do people enjoy displaying these prayer beads on their arms, necks, and hands? What is the meaning behind those pictures of Mary or those praying hands folded around the rosary necklace?
This article will explore the history, meaning, designs, and placement of rosary tattoos.
What is the History of Rosary Tattoos?
This kind of tattoo depicts a string of prayer beads called a rosary. Rosaries, which are most commonly associated with the Roman Catholic branch of Christianity, usually have a short strand of five beads and five longer strands of ten beads.
Each strand is separated by a larger bead in between. Most, if not all, strings of rosary beads have a crucifix or an empty cross on the end. Some rosaries also include other symbols or tokens, such as a medallion representing a prominent figure like St. Michael the Archangel.
The rosary form of prayer beads has been around since at least the 13th century, possibly earlier. It has been a major part of Roman Catholic prayer life since the 15th century, and popes as recent as John Paul II and Benedict XVI have recommended the use of the Rosary to their followers.
What Do Rosary Tattoos Symbolize?
Each bead on the rosary prayer chain represents a different prayer for the believer to pray. The short strand of five beads at the start of the rosary represent the following prayers:
- The Sign of the Cross (“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”
- The Apostles’ Creed (which begins, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty . . .”)
- The Lord’s Prayer (aka, the “Our Father”)
- The Hail Mary (which begins, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee . . .”)
- The Gloria Patri (which begins, “Glory be to the Father . . .”)
The following sets of ten beads (or “decades”) represent a “mystery” from the lives of the Virgin Mary and of her Son, Jesus Christ. These include events such as Jesus’ birth (aka “the Nativity”), the wedding at Cana (where Jesus turned water into wine after Mary spoke to Him), and Mary witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion.
The person praying will meditate upon each “mystery” as he or she progresses around the string of beads. There are four sets of mysteries for Roman Catholics to meditate upon throughout the week:
- The Joyful Mysteries
- The Luminous Mysteries
- The Sorrowful Mysteries
- The Glorious Mysteries
Typically, a Roman Catholic using the Rosary will pray each mystery five times per day, once for each “decade” on the string of prayer beads. He or she will then conclude the Rosary prayer with a hymn to Mary called the Salve Regina, a litany (aka a list of prayers), and finish with the Sign of the Cross.
What Do Rosary Tattoos Mean?
Obviously, the image of the Rosary contains significant religious meaning for many different people. Some people may take a Rosary tattoo because they want to display their devout Christian faith, or they want to identify themselves as specifically Roman Catholic as opposed to other forms of Christianity.
It is less common for non-Roman Catholic Christians to use rosaries, but some Lutherans, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox Christians use some form of prayer beads. Lastly, prayer beads in general aren’t exclusive to Christianity and are used by some Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Baha’i, and members of other religions. The specific bead structure of a rosary is uniquely Christian, however.
Other meanings behind a rosary tattoo include a desire for protection against demons and other forces of spiritual evil, a focus on a life of forgiveness and prayer, and a general respect for and devotion to the Virgin Mary.
A rosary tattoo could also mean that the person simply enjoys the visual appeal of the flower-like pattern that a string of prayer beads creates. In some cases, it could even suggest a Latino gang affiliation, because many Latinos have a cultural Roman Catholic background even if they don’t personally practice the religion.
Characteristics and Styles of Rosary Tattoos
Just as not every physical rosary is the same, so too each tattoo design can be different. Some rosary tattoos feature a single decade (i.e. only ten beads instead of fifty on the long strand), which is the kind of rosary that a person would wear as a bracelet. This allows the design to be longer or shorter than it would be in real life.
Other designs include hands folded in prayer, the prayer beads wrapped around a crucifix or empty cross, a rosary alongside a dove (to represent the Holy Spirit) or next to a picture of the Virgin Mary herself, or words from a prayer, the Bible, or the name of a loved one (especially someone who has died).
Most of these tattoos are black, but some designs use red ink. Red can link the design with its namesake flower, the rose, or it can give the design an additional sense of meaning to represent the blood of Christ or the blood shed by martyrs who died for Christianity.
These videos display dozens of different rosary designs. Some of the designs feature empty crosses while others have crucifixes with high levels of detail for Jesus suffering on the Cross. Others incorporate images of roses or other flowers or pictures of an opened Bible.
Where Do Rosary Tattoos Usually Go?
Since it isn’t an inherently large design (especially with a shorter, single-decade strand instead of the full fifty beads), a rosary tattoo can go almost anywhere on the body. As a symbol of religious devotion, a wearer is likely to want the tattoo placed in a prominent or otherwise visible part of the body.
Expect to see this kind of tattoo most commonly on the hand, wrist, or forearm. Since a rosary is traditionally worn around the neck, a tattoo may also be located in the neck area. Some people also enjoy having the tattoo placed around their ankle on the top of their foot.
Depending on the size, a rosary tattoo can even fit on a wearer’s finger. Less commonly, you may see this kind of tattoo on a person’s chest or back.
We hope this exploration of the significance of rosary tattoos has answered your questions and maybe even piqued your interest about this fascinating and, to many people, spiritually significant design.