tattoos of Catholic images: sin?


I have some friends (who are Catholic and devout) who have tattoos of different images that we adore and find comfort in. For example, the sacred heart or the immaculate heart, the virgin of Guadalupe, etc…and now I have another friend who is thinking of getting something similar, and she asked for my opinion and if I thought it was a sin. I don’t think I am in the place to make a judgement of wether or not its a “sin” to have a sacred image tattoed to your body. I honestly don’t have an opinion either way and I don’t think badly of people who have tattoos like this, because I know that it truly means something to them.

So…I come to CAF to hear opinions! Opinions of people who are in a place to make a judgement of sin (Priests) are especially welcomed :thumbsup:

I suppose another question would be, do you think it is tastful?

I had no idea where to put this…so feel free to move it if needed


This has been a frequent topic here, especially on the Moral Theology forum. You might want to do a search for tattoo topics and see what comes up.

Briefly, it’s not considered a sin by the Church, certainly not tattoos of sacred images. In fact, back in the days of pilgrimages to Jerusalem one would get a tattoo of a cross by a Coptic priest as a sign you had gone. The Oriental Orthodox/Catholics still practice the art of sacred tattoos to this day, the most famous being the tattoo of a cross on the hand by the Copts, as a way of proclaiming one’s Christianity in a Muslim society (often, when religious violence breaks out against Copts, sometimes their crosses are cut off their bodies by Muslims!)

I myself have an Armenian Cross tattooed on my back/neck, and you can see it in my profile. I think well-done tattoos sacred are quite beautiful and tasteful, and not at all distasteful. Others will obviously disagree. A tattoo of the Virgin, or the Sacred Heart, is quite different from a flaming skull or naked demon!

Peace and God bless!


thank you for that! :smiley: I did a search but I don’t think the search option works on my computer…sorry!


Just thought I’d add that today at the Easter Divine Liturgy (Melkite), I spotted an older woman in the congregation with a cross tattooed on her hand. I’ve seen this a few times on older women, but never on men.

Talk about a switch from Western culture! :stuck_out_tongue:

Peace and God bless!


I’m fickle enough to never be fond of anything as permanent as a tatoo. I can imagine getting 20 years down the track and desperately wishing either that I never had one or had a different image than what I’d chosen. Especially when there’s plenty of jewellery, medals etc that one can use to proclaim one’s faith.

Having said that, unless it’s extreme (really big or really disfiguring) it’s not sinful.


Well, what does scripture say about tattoos?

Check out Leviticus 19:28

“…and do not tattoo yourselves. I am the Lord.”

Hardly any room for interpretation here, and no exception clause.


Uh-huh. Leviticus also says not to eat pork or shellfish, not to wear clothing of mixed (more than one type) fibre, not to mix meat and dairy foods in the same dish. Furthermore it says that you’re unclean and must ritually bathe if (male) you have a nocturnal emission or wet dream, or (female) if you have your monthly periods or have given birth less than forty days ago. No room for interpretation or exceptions with those rules either.

I suppose you follow all of those rules to the T? Never a meat pizza or meat lasagna, never a polycotton shirt and no Church during ‘that time of the month’ for the womenfolk of your family?


There are two types of law in the old testament. One is ritual law, and the other is moral law. While the ritual laws applied to the Israelites, the moral laws apply for all forever. The ten commandments are moral laws; they are not the ten suggestions.


Uh-huh and amen. And it’s for the Church in its wisdom to discern the difference and to teach which is which - which laws need to be kept and which no longer apply. It’s not for you to decide.

And they have very clearly so taught that there is no problem with tatoos per se.


Please quote your source.


You were just asking for trouble by trying to give your interpretation of Old Testament scripture, commendable but foolish. How do you know that the tattooing was not something ritual? I’ve heard before that it was in reference to pagan practices where there ‘lacerated the dead’ to honour their dead or to tattoo.

Such things were forbidden to set apart the people of the covenant of God and the pagans. I think this question has been asked before in the Apologists section, and the Church does not condemn it, obviously tattoos of satan or other strange things are forbidden, but tattoos of the cross or the blessed virgin is hardly a cause for alarm

Is getting a tattoo against church teaching? (i chose this forum cause the others were full.)
Answer by Fr. John Echert on 04-28-2005:
It can be, depending upon it content, location and the intention of the person receiving it. My uncles got tattoos in WWII while in the Navy, of an anchor or something similar; this was commonly done and while they regret it now, with faded colors and the passing of time, it was not a mortal sin when done. But anything intended to be sexually provocative, contrary to religion, or excessive could very well be a mortal sin. Be careful…

Thanks, James

Father Echert

Hi Dr. Geraghty,

I have a question about tattoos. I have mixed feelings about them. I think many tattoos are foolish. And as Sacred Scripture says our body is sacred, and it is wrong to misuse it. However, some tattoos have some very deep meanings. I would only get one if it had special meanings. For example, a tattoo of a spouse’s name, in dedication of a deceased relative or friend, or a religious symbol, such as a drawing of the face of Jesus, or of a cross, etc…Does our Catholic doctrine have an official stance on tattoos…including those with no moral meaning and those that do have a deep meaning?

Thanks so much and God Bless!
Answer by Richard Geraghty on 04-17-2005:
Dear Jon,

The Church is universal. Now in parts of the world a tattoo is an honored and serious part of the culture. So the Church does not prohibit tattoos in general. It holds to the general principle that the body is sacred. Thus the practice of having a tattoo should not violate this principle. If a particular instance did violate this principle, the tattoo would be wrong. As you see, then, the judgment is on a case by case basis. So one cannot rule out the practice altogether. Neither an one rule it in altogether. It takes the same stance about dancing, card playing, drinking alcohol. It does not rule out these practices totally. Neither does it approve of them totally. Each case must be judged on an individual basis. Those who abuse these practices act immorally. Those who use the in a sane and virtuous manner act morally.

Dr. Geraghty


This is from a Jewish source. Judaism today prohibits tattooing.

we are created b’tzelem Elokim (in the image of God) and that our bodies are to be viewed as a precious gift on loan from God, to be entrusted into our care and [are] not our personal property to do with as we choose. Voluntary tattooing even if not done for idolatrous purposes expresses a negation of this fundamental Jewish perspective.


I think it is a sin because not only does the Bible forbid tattoos, but it is a sin to have a holy image on your skin. I don’t think it is tasteful either.


where in the Bible or CCC does it forbid holy images on the skin? I’m not asking in a skeptical way, because I honestly am uninformed on this…so if you can point to the source I would really appreciate it! :smiley:

If this is just your opinion (which I also greatly appreciate!) then state it as such.


“Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves.” (Leviticus 19:28)

I’m not sure there is a Church teaching on this, however this is just my opinion.


Opinions are great and all, but I think Vanilla is looking for the authority of the Church and where She stands. Am I correct?


Yes, we aren’t Jewish, we are catholic, they adhere to the old covenant, tatoos goes under certain rituals that were done by pagans. Infact if you had read my post at all, you would have picked up on that.


That’s CIRCULAR REASONING, it’s known as logically incorrect. The Bible forbade Jews from tattooing because it is what pagans did, so for distinction, they were forbidden from doing the same, lest they were to be recognized as a pagan.
The Bible also says not to trim beards, but there is a reason for that in the olden days, similar to the tattoo thing.


End of discussion


Sorry no, the Apologists on this website are fallible. Therefore you cannot take everything they say for face value. The Bible forbids it and therefore that is my stance on it.

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