Cross tattoo designs are among the most popular tattoo designs in the world. Cross tattoo designs are pretty common, partly due to how both Christianity and tattoo art use symbols. In this post we’ll examine some amazing cross tattoo designs, while also discussing the history of cross tattoos and why their involvement in tattoo culture can be controversial.
Cross tattoo designs
The cross is a symbol of religious faith for Christians. It represents the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, whose followers believe to be God in the flesh. His suffering represents his connection to humanity and serves as a sacrifice, making sins absolvable through the observance of rituals like communion and confession. The details vary depending on which sect of Christianity one chooses, but that’s the core of the story. To this day, the cross is a common symbol of Christian faith the world over, as well as a symbol of suffering, commitment, and sanctification.
The interesting thing about cross tattoo designs is that the designs follow the history of the Christian religion. Wherever the religion went, it blended with indigenous cultures who incorporated Christian symbols into their art. These cultures often used symbols in strong relation to their previous religions, and they carried that use of symbology with them as they began observing the Christian faith. Below, we’ll look at some cross tattoo designs that show the influence of the cultures from which they came.
Perhaps one of the most popular styles of cross tattoos are Celtic crosses. Celtic cross tattoo designs stand out from other cross tattoo designs due to the unique weaving and knotting patterns worked into the design.
When we refer to the Celtic cross, there are two styles. The first is a square cross inside a circle, or “nimbus”. This is a rather ancient symbol with ties to the earlier Latin cross. The second style is “cross-shaped” and is inlaid with the knotted and braided designs many of us are familiar with today. This second style comes from a Victorian revival in Celtic heritage that saw Celtic crosses of this style used as funerary markers. Additionally, Aleander and Euphemia Ritchie promoted the revival of the design through their 19th century jewelry-making.
The first style of the Celtic cross which we mentioned may also be used as a neo-nazi or white nationalist symbol. Therefore, getting a tattoo of this particular cross design should bear careful consideration. You could be sending the wrong message, as these types of cross tattoos often symbolize membership in hate groups and gangs. The second style of Celtic cross is much safer and most commonly associates the wearer with Celtic heritage.
The American Traditional tattoo style has its roots in naval traditions. As one might imagine, faith and service often go hand in hand. Sailors and other members of the armed forces commonly got tattoos that touted their faith. Early 20th century American tattoos were simple in design and color.
American traditional cross tattoos typically use variations of a simple, plain cross. It’s called a basalt cross. The basalt cross has ties to German heritage, hailing from the Eifel mountains in Germany which was home to a basalt quarry. The townspeople there carved thousands of crosses from basalt as a testament to their faith. They served as both grave markers and wayside markers. More than 10,000 of them exist, the earliest dating back to 1461. The use of basalt as the medium has made these monuments extremely durable to the elements, a condition that some like to parallel with the durability of their faith. These cross tattoos often denote German heritage as well as an unwavering Christian faith.
American traditional tattoos use a limited color palette and smaller, simpler designs. As tattoo culture began to grow in the 2000s and tattoos become more widely acceptable in the US, this style has seen a surge in popularity. Nostalgia for the classic designs and its uniquely American history has also driven the popularity of this tattoo style.
For most, this is what they think of when they think of a cross tattoo design. An ornate, sometimes heavily embellished cross tattoo. The designs might incorporate filigree, rays of light, clouds, a crown of thorns, or scripture citations. Classical tattoo designs are most common with followers of the Catholic faith, though many protestants use the design as well. These cross designs are called classical, or Latin crosses, because the style resembles that of classical painters and sculptors of the Renaissance. Latin cross refers to one of a specific set of crosses.
Commonly called a crucifix, the Rood cross depicts the body of Jesus on the cross. It is typically hung high above the pulpit of a church. The crucifix, meanwhile, refers to any image of a cross that also includes the crucified body of Jesus. The name “Rood Cross” stems from the Old English word “Rood” and means “rod”. This is what Old English speakers would call the cross. The terms “crucifix” and “cross” didn’t come into existence until much later. Protestant religions use the crucifix or Rood as a means of keeping the focus on Jesus. Other uses of the symbol within the Christian religion, such as the Papal Cross (which adds two more arms to the cross), put an emphasis on the cross itself. Some protestant sects feel this use dilutes the meaning of the symbol.
Wearers of crucifix tattoo designs are proud of their Christian heritage and wear the tattoo to express this. Most crucifix tattoos are both large and elaborate, meaning they are also typically expensive. To some degree the size and ornateness of these tattoos is also a testament to their faith.
Getting a Custom Cross Tattoo
As you can see, there’s a lot to learn about cross tattoo designs. The type of cross you choose and the style you choose it in can say a lot about you. If you want to learn about other common tattoo styles, just check out our other guides.