Rock of Ages: a timeless tattoo which mingles faith, sensuality, and love of the sea

Based on an old Christian hymn and a 19th century painting, the Rock of Ages has adorned the skin of thousands right up to the present day…

Long ago in 1763 the British minister Reverend Augustus Toplady wrote a short hymn inspired by an incident which happened to him in the Mendip hills.

Samuele Briganti, Bold Will Hold Tattoo, Florence, Italy
Samuele Briganti, Bold Will Hold Tattoo, Florence, Italy

The unfortunate pastor was caught in a terrible storm and only the presence of a cleft in the rock (the famed Rock of Ages), saved him from certain death falling into a ravine.

Jamison Stagaard, Fortified Tattoo Co., Lompoc, USA
Jamison Stagaard, Fortified Tattoo Co., Lompoc, USA

Once the danger had passed, Toplady wrote his personal composition and called it Rock of Ages of which we quote the most important lines:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save me from its guilt and power.

Unbeknownst to him, the Reverend had given rise to one of the most famous if not the most famous Traditional tattoos of all time showing a woman on a rock clinging to a Christian cross while in the distance a ship sinks amid the stormy waves.

Paul Dobleman, Black Heart Tattoo, San Francisco, USA
Paul Dobleman, Black Heart Tattoo, San Francisco, USA

But it is not only the intuition of Toplady we have to thank for this but also Johannes Adam Simon Oertel, an episcopal priest as well as amateur painte,r who lived in Westerly, in the American state of Rhode Island.

Steve Wood, Sacred Tattoo, Auckland, New Zealand
Steve Wood, Sacred Tattoo, Auckland, New Zealand

In 1860, a full hundred years after the British pastor’s ordeal, Oertel, was inspired by Toplady’s hymn to paint a picture called An Emblematic Representation of Christian Faith which came to be known as the Rock of Ages since it showed the now familiar subject which has been reproduced in thousands if not hundreds of thousands of tattoos.

Tony Nillson, Blue Arms Tattoo, Oslo, Norway
Tony Nillson, Blue Arms Tattoo, Oslo, Norway

The Rock of Ages, in the sense of the tattoo, was destined to be a success from the last years of the 19th century – the very first examples of it can be seen in pieces by the tattoo artist Samuel O’Reily – thanks to its wide range of symbolism.

Chris Stuart, Ace Custom Tattoo, Charlotte, USA
Chris Stuart, Ace Custom Tattoo, Charlotte, USA

An interesting mix of iconography (feminine sensuality mixed with religious themes and the seafaring references) as well as its physicality, seeing as how it is one of the best Traditional tattoos and is daily inked onto backs, forearms and thighs. Regardless of whether they are male or female.

An immortal tattoo with undeniable significance which we would like to celebrate once more in this gallery dedicated to the best in Rock of Ages skin art.

Sway, Sacred Electric Tattoo, Leeds, UK Jamison Stagaard, Fortified Tattoo Co., Lompoc, USA Stizzo, Best of Times, Milan, Italy Bill Loika, Tattoo Peter, Amsterdam, Holland

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