*** DEBUG END ***

A craze that disgusts

27 September 2013

THE world's most tattooed person is Tom Leppard, from the Isle of Skye, who has 99.9 per cent of his body covered in a leopard-skin design. The only untattooed parts of his body are the skin between his toes and the insides of his ears. Tattoos are a contemporary craze - with a long history of Christian disgust.

Everyone has a tattoo these days. International cricket players display whole arms covered in them; David Beckham has a good number; and recently Cheryl Cole spent £4000 on a rose tattoo that spans half the length of her petite frame. One fan said: "Why people want to mutilate their bodies with tattoos is beyond me."

Dr Edel McAndrew, a clinical psychologist, echoes this: "Self-expression is healthy, but there are always some who take things too far. In fact, some psychiatrists even refer to tattooing as a form of mutilation."

Some also regard it as a bit working class, although some of it is surprisingly posh. Caesar, in the first century AD, reported that all Britons stained their body with woad. King Harold's corpse was identified after the Battle of Hastings by his tattoos; and, in 1862, the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, had a Jerusalem cross tattooed on his arm on a visit to the Holy Land.

With such royal approval, the practice became fashionable with aristocrats in the late 19th and early 20th centuries - including women. Winston Churchill's mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, had a snake tattooed on her wrist. It was an expensive process, but later, as costs came down, tattoos became a hobby for society's lower classes, and the practice fell out of favour with the posh.

Christians have never been keen. In 325, the Emperor Constantine banned facial tattoos among believers, as they disfigured God's image; and in 787, a council of churches in Northumberland banned all body markings as pagan, advocating instead the veneration of holy images.

A thousand years on, missionaries in Polynesia condemned the practice, which was deeply ingrained in Maori culture, quoting Leviticus 19.28: "Do not cut your bodies for the dead, or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord." In a practice known as "holy stoning", they would try to remove tattoos by rubbing the skin with sandstone. This involved scouring the body raw. Today, laser surgery offers a less painful option for the removal of unwanted markings.

The deep stain of tattoos is a cry for permanence in an impermanent world; or the search for external identity where an internal sense of this is shaky. This leaves the pressing question for all tattoo virgins: if you had to have a tattoo, what would be your mark of choice?

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear alongside your letter.

Forthcoming Events

6-7 September 2022
Preaching as Pilgrimage conference
From the College of Preachers.

8 September 2022
Church Times Cricket Cup: North v. South
Join us to watch the match at the Walker Cricket Ground, in Southgate, north London.

26 September 2022
What am I living for? God
Sam Wells and Lucy Winkett begin the St Martin-in-the-Fields autumn lecture series in partnership with Church Times.

More events

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)