As the sole surviving pilgrimage-tattoo business, Razzouk Ink is a place where ancient artifacts meet contemporary machines and rich history intersects with modern technology.
Just inside the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, a big sign above a tiny shop reads tattoo with heritage since 1300. For over 700 years the Razzouk family has been tattooing marks of faith. As Coptic Christians who settled in Jerusalem generations ago, the family had learned the craft in Egypt, where the devout wear similar inked inscriptions. Evidence of such tattoos dates back at least as far as the 8th century in Egypt and the 6th century in the Holy Land, where Procopius of Gaza wrote of tattooed Christians bearing designs of crosses and Christ’s name. Early tattoos served as a way for indigenous Christians in the Middle East and Egypt to self-identify. Later, as the faithful came to the Holy Land on pilgrimage, the practice expanded to offer these travelers permanent evidence of their devotion and peregrination.
Razzouk Ink’s stone walls and exposed beams lend antique character to the space. A museum-like case holds heirlooms, and an exhibition of pictures on the walls offers glimpses into the family’s past.
Pilgrims’ accounts dating to the late 16th century show how purveyors such as the Razzouks must have tattooed back then, with sewing needles bound to the end of a wooden handle.