Tattoo artist upholds centuries-old tradition of marking pilgrims during their visit to Holy Land

Tattoo artist, Wassim Razzouk, who is continuing his family's tradition of inking Christian pilgrims with ancient tattoos, completes a tattoo on a customers arm at his studio in Jerusalem's Old City November 27, 2017.REUTERS/Amir Cohen

A tattoo artist in Jerusalem's Old City is using his skills to mark pilgrims with Christian symbols and images, a tradition that his family has observed for 500 years.

Wassim Razzouk, one of the most sought-after tattoo artists in Jerusalem, is the latest member of the family that has been marking pilgrims with ink for hundreds of years to identify them as Christians.

This past Easter, his small shop in an alleyway inside the Jaffa Gate was packed with Christian tourists who wanted to get tattoos to commemorate their visit to the Holy Land.

According to Catholic Philly, the family tradition began in Egypt 700 years ago, but it came to the Holy Land 500 years ago after Razzouk's ancestor, Jeruis, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and decided to stay there. He offered his services as a tattoo artist to make a living and the tradition has since been passed down through the generations.

Initially, the Razzouks only offered their services to their fellow Copts, but they have since started tattooing Christians of all denominations.

Razzouk, who joined the family business 10 years ago, copies some of the designs from the original 500-year-old wooden stamp blocks used by his ancestors. He still has 60 of the 300 original stamps.

"I really felt like it was a responsibility (to carry on the family tradition) so I decided to do it," Razzouk said, according to Catholic Philly.

Many of the clients request the Jerusalem Cross, which was first introduced in the 15th century by the Franciscan order as the symbol of the Holy Land and the Holy City.

"People come to us to be part of the history and tradition of the Holy Land. In some ways, who is giving you the tattoo is more important than the tattoo itself," Razzouk said, according to Times of Israel.

The walls of Razzouk's studio is decked with framed articles about the family from around the world, as well as portraits of the previous owners with a depiction of their tattooing instruments.

Today, Razzouk uses the most-up-to-date methods, with a modern tattoo machine, and has set up a website for the shop, as well as a Facebook page.

Razzouk said that the family tradition began in Egypt as a service to the Coptic church. The Copts are marked with a small cross inside the wrist to identify them as Christians and allow them to get inside the church.

"It was, and still is a mark that lets them get into the church. Also the Muslims rulers wanted the Christians tattooed to distinguish them from Muslims," Razzouk said, as reported by Times of Israel.