While it is known that Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge and grandson of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, will soon visit Israel, rumors are rife about whether or not he will return with the same souvenir that his predecessors received on their visits.
On March 1, Buckingham Palace announced that Prince William will be visiting Israel, Jordan and the West Bank this summer, making it the first official visit by British royals in 70 years. He will be the first Duke of Cambridge to visit the Holy Land since 1948. In the nineteenth century, three British princes made official trips to the area.
Prince Albert Edward, the son of Queen Victoria -- who would go on to become King Edward VII, visited the Holy Land in 1862, while his two sons, Prince Albert Victor and George V, visited twenty years later. Prince William’s ancestors received tattoos on their arms displaying five crosses and three crowns of Jerusalem, according to the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM).
According to BICOM, the tattoos were applied by members of the Razzouk family: members of the Coptic Christian church of Egypt. Ancestors of the Razzouks migrated from Egypt to the Holy Land in 1750. The family still offers its services at a tattoo parlor on Saint George Street near the Jaffa Gate in the ancient quarter of Jerusalem.
While many Christian authorities frown on tattoos for Christians because of the association of tattoos with pagan practices, Coptic Christians have long tattooed their wrists with a cross in order to bear an indelible testimony to their faith. According to the Razzouk family website, their ancestors marked Coptic Christians with a small cross on the inside of the wrist to grant them access to churches. “Those without it would have difficulty entering the church;” reads the website, “therefore, and from a very young age (sometimes even a few months old) Christians would tattoo their children with the cross identifying them as Copts.” The language of the Coptic churches is the original language of Egypt, which was supplanted by Arabic after the Muslim invasions of the 7th century.
The website notes that pilgrims to the Holy Land were accustomed to receive tattoos to prove that they had made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, sometimes commemorating the date of their visit. The Jerusalem Cross Tattoo dates at least as far back as the First Crusade of 1096 and appears in the coat of arms of famed crusader Godfrey of Bouillon, who became the first Latin ruler of Jerusalem. According to the website, “the tall, handsome, and fair-haired descendant of Charlemagne found his way quickly into legend, idolized as the ‘perfect Christian knight.’ In the nearly one thousand years since then, the Jerusalem cross has been associated with Christian crusades, heroism, and knights, but especially with Jerusalem, especially when it comes to tattoos.”