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Cross tattoos are among the most versatile tattoo symbols out there today, as even a rudimentary internet search reveals.
The most popular cross tattoos is the Latin cross, a Christian religious symbol. Not all cross tattoos are religious in nature though – at least, not in a conventional sense.
Some people get cross tattoos to express their religious feelings, other people may just like the design or give a pre-Christian or personal symbolic meaning to their cross tattoo.
Cross tattoos designs are representations of a symbol that is far more ancient and varied than you might think.
Cross tattoos are usually worn by men (on the shoulders, back, forearm). Women also have them, but then the design is usually smaller and more feminine (on the foot, ankle, hand, lower back).
Some people may be surprised to learn that crosses were not always a Christian symbol. There were many cross symbols in the older, pagan religions.
Tattoo drawings of crosses come from many different traditions:
- In some pre-Christian cultures, the vertical bar was seen as the male phallus, the horizontal bar as the vagina
- The Celtic druids saw the cross as a phallic symbol as well (see further)
- The ancient Babylonians had a cross symbol that was associated with their moon deity
- The Assyrian cross was associated with the four directions
- In ancient Egypt, the ‘ankh’ cross symbol was a symbol or the union between Isis and Osiris. Ankh tattoos, like other cross tattoos, are quite popular today, especially among people who have an interest in mythology or the occult
Celtic Cross Tattoos
The Celtic cross (aka Irish cross) is a particularly beautiful representation of this almost universal symbol and Celtic cross tattoos are a popular type of Celtic tattoo.
The Celtic cross looks like a basic cross with a circle (symbol for the sun) around the intersection and is adorned with Celtic knot work art. The effect of these tribal cross tattoos is stunning, either in plain black, blue or a bold Celtic green. The Celtic cross is often incorporated in an armband tattoo.
Follow the link to learn more about Celtic Cross Tattoos and other Celtic tattoos. Here's an example of a cracked stone Celtic cross tattoo with the family insignia in the middle:
Christian Cross Tattoos
The Christian faith uses the cross as a symbol for the fact that Jesus Christ was crucified by the Romans, a common Roman way of executing slaves and non-Romans. The Christian cross symbolizes Jesus' victory over dead.
One of the first things that come to mind when thinking about Christian cross tattoos is: Is it ok for a Christian to get a tattoo?
The answer is yes, it is ok for a Christian to get a tattoo. The Christian religion doesn't have a rule against tattoos, unlike the Jewish faith.
Even if we just look at the basic Christian cross, there is still an almost endless variation in types of symbols and images:
- The most simple and basic cross is called the Latin cross or crux ordinaria. The vertical line represents the divine, the horizontal line represents the world, the intersection is the union of both. These holy cross tattoos are often quite small and done in black and white. Most popular places for them are the wrists, hands and the upper arms
- The type that shows Jesus on a wooden cross is called a crucifix
- A cross hanging at the end of a rosary, combined with praying hands is a popular Christian tattoo design as well
- Others show the crown of thorns either hung over one arm or the cross or suspended in the middle of it
- Italian cross tattoos are popular as well, this example is combined with a Latin text:
- An interesting variation is the cross of nails – in this cross tattoo, the cross itself is made up of large, rough-looking nails, the type that were driven through Christ’s hands and feet. Often a crown of thorns is added to this image as well
- The following example is a wooden cross combined with a Jesus fish
Holy cross tattoos are very apt at expressing the Christian faith, and have come to be associated with Christianity throughout the world.
Ethiopian Cross Tattoos
The Ethiopian cross tattoo is worn by followers of the Coptic church to express their faith. The Coptic church is the largest Christian church in Egypt.
The Coptic cross has 2 lines of equal length and is derived from the Egyptian ankh cross. At the end of the lines are 3 points that symbolize:
- the trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost
- the 12 points together symbolize the 12 Apostles of Jesus
Gothic Cross Tattoos
Although the Goth subculture is not tied to a specific religion, they like to adorn themselves with religious symbols, especially Catholic symbols.
Gothic cross tattoos often have an iron texture and are heavily adorned. The crosses are often combined with imaginary like daggers and barbed wire. Gothic tattoos are German in style.
Maltese Cross Tattoo
Originally, the Maltese cross is the symbol of the Knights Hospitaller, a group of Christian warriors. A Maltese cross tattoo has 4 v-shaped arms with the narrow end on the inside and 8 points. The 8 points stand for:
- Disdain of death
- Respect for the church
In the US, the Maltese cross is used by firefighters, for example the Philadelphia Fire Department and that of New York both have a Maltese cross in their insignia. Maltese cross tattoos often have flames in their design.
Southern Cross Tattoos
The Southern cross (aka crux) is a constellation that is visible in the Southern Hemisphere. Several flags have the Southern cross on them, like those from Australia, Brazil, Samoa and more.
The Southern cross is also pictured on the Confederate flag or the rebel flag, used by the Confederate States in the American civil war.
Iron Cross Tattoos
Iron cross tattoos are popular with bikers. The iron cross was a German military decoration that was handed out to soldiers. Nowadays it is the logo of the German army. In the 60s, the iron cross was also popular among American surfers.
Cross Tattoo Combinations
Cross tattoos are often combined with other elements. This is a good idea because it adds to the personal meaning of your tattoo design.
Here are the most popular images to combine with a cross tattoo:
- Butterflies: a symbol for the resurrection of Christ
- The Stars and Stripes: the American flag as a background for a cross is a popular patriotic tattoo design
- Words of verses from the Bible, usually displayed on a ribbon
- Other texts like "Only God Can Judge Me" for example
- Flowers: vines, thorns, roses, lilies
- Tribal cross tattoos: a cross is often a part of a tribal tattoo. This example is a Celtic cross with tribal patterns:
- Shamrock: popular Irish tattoo design
- Praying hands
- Angel wings: a classic design is the cross with angel wings tattoo
- Daggers and swords
- A skull
- Rosary beads
- The sun and moon
- Hearts: heart cross tattoos combine a cross with a heart in the middle
The sheer number of cross symbols that exist – and the power of the cross symbol - ensures that cross tattoos have lasting power and symbolism.
Memorial tattoos are growing more and more popular, especially since 9/11. Cross tattoos like this often have a stone texture combined with the name and/or date from someone dear who has died. Memorial tattoos are also popular as a way to honour a dead soldier who has died in service. They are a good way to express grief for a person and often replace the role of a gravestone.
Celebrities With Cross Tattoos
Here's an overview of celebrities with a cross tattoo. Let me know if I missed someone:
- Justin Timberlake: has a cross tattoo on his left shoulder.
- Robbie Williams: has a Celtic cross on his right hip and another cross tattoo on his right arm with the name Jack Farrell (his grandfather) underneath.
- Melanie C: one of the Spice Girls, has a cross tattoo on her left arm.
- Britney Spears: la Spears has a pink and black cross tattoo on her hip.
- Tupac Shakur: the late rapper had a load of tattoos. Tupac's gothic cross tattoo has the inscription "Exodus 18:11".
- Dave Gahan: the singer of the band Depeche Mode, has got a Celtic cross tattoo on his left upper arm and another cross on his under arm.
- Allen Iverson: NBA player, has a cross of daggers with the words "Only The Strong Survive".
- Stevie Ray Vaughan: the late blues guitarist had an Ethiopian cross tattoo.
- Anastacia: celebrity with an ankh cross tattoo pictured on a tribal sun.
- Drew Barrymore: has a cross tattoo on her ankle.
- Mary J Blige: has a cross on her right thigh.
- Boy George: 80s celebrity with a cross on his right shoulder.
- Kelly Clarkson: has a small cross tattoo on her right wrist.
- Nicky Hilton: Paris Hilton's sister, has a cross on the back of her neck.
- Jenna Jameson: adult film star with a cross tattoo on her back.
- Lenny Kravitz: singer with a cross on his arm.
- Eva Longoria: Desperate Housewives actress with a Celtic cross tattoo on her lower back.
- Dennis Rodman: basketball player with a cross tattoo.
- Mickey Rourke: has a cross on his biceps.
- Christian Slater: has a cross with two lion tattoo designs on his right shoulder
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