Pilgrims and Tattoo of Loreto

A pilgrimage is a devotional event consisting in going to a sacred place, quite often after a very long and tiring journey. This practice is, perhaps, linked to certain habits of primitive men, who went looking for herbs and special ingredients in faraway lands.
In our case, the search aims at the quest of spiritual enrichment.
Sometimes the pilgrimage was imposed by the confessor or by the ecclesiastical authority as penitence or very often, voluntarily chosen by the worshipper. Frequently the pilgrim agreed to add extra afflictions (i.e. standing on one’s knees, carrying extra weights, fasting, etc) and this was because the pilgrim was seen as a privileged person. In fact, he could enjoy the respect of other men as well as of the powerful, as they saw him as a Saint and hence, they assumed he would have the protection of the church. Therefore, the pilgrim was facilitated in every possible way (streets were built, as well as shelters and hospices) but, on the other hand, he was also feared as a possible carrier of infectious diseases.

Numerous pilgrims have come to the Sanctuary of Loreto since the early days. For centuries, pilgrims came exclusively on foot (a proof of this is found in a nursery rhyme that says “Pilgrim coming from Rome, with broken shoes on your feet”).
The majority of pilgrims came from the Abruzzo region (called “Regnicoli”), from the mountains (called “Cecchi”) from the lower part of the Lazio Region (called “Ciociari”) but many came also from the rest of Italy and Europe too.
Over time, on the way through the Apennines some places became resting spots (like Macereto), where pilgrims could sleep under spacious exterior arcades. After the development of roads and railways, on-foot pilgrimages stopped altogether.
The most traditional pilgrimages were “the Ciociari” in September, the Pilgrimage of Candia (a location not too far from Ancona) bearing wheat used to make religious wafers and the annual Pilgrimage from Recanati which often ended up in a punch-up with Loreto citizens who even used crucifixes to beat up their opponents.


The pilgrim had to proof his status in some way, so he got particular medals, which he usually sewed on his hat or coat, as a testimony of his completed pilgrimage. These medals constituted an effective safe-conduct with soldiers, police, authorities and even bandits, who, for a superstitious fear of God and for the awareness that little (or nothing) could be stolen from these poor pilgrims, abstained from any hostile action.
But medals could get lost, stolen or even counterfeited and, therefore, soon they started to be a weak evidence of the Pilgrim’s faith. That’s why the religious tattoo was introduced and soon became very popular: it was a personal sign which was also permanent and left no space to doubts.
Therefore, probably at the beginning on the 17th Century, the practice of religious tattoos started in Loreto with the marking of the skin of Pilgrims coming from Lazio and Abruzzo regions. These
worshippers gladly returned to their villages showing everyone the mark that proved they had been at the Holy House of Loreto and arousing admiration with their fellow villagers.

The civil authorities did not approve this practice and continually intervened to stop it. During the Municipal council session of 25th November 1871, the proposal coming from lawyer and councilor Augusto Ciccolini was approved. It stated that “… an addition to the regulation of urban police to stop the ugly job of tattooing… as a superstitious use to impress on one’s skin, through punctures, permanent signs. While the degrading trade of those who exercise such punctures will never be sufficiently stigmatized, it is necessary to declare – should it not be known – that those who request these impressions representing religious ideas are not the inhabitants of Loreto, but those idiot visitors devoted to the Shrine of the Holy House, who flock here from all parts and during different festivals of the year….).

Despite the prohibitions, the practice of tattoos went on in Loreto until mid 20th Century and today it is still possible to hear direct testimony of people who have practiced this profession in the past.
The tattooers were mainly shoemakers who worked at the entrance of their house and, hence, kept the necessary equipment at hand, on a bench (the same equipment they used for their profession). Their location, the discontinuity of their work and perhaps even their familiarity with skins and dyes made them particularly suitable for the occasional extra-professional performances.
They had an assortment of stencils and small wooden boards made of boxwood with religious images and symbols roughly carved on them.
The figure was impressed on the skin using a black smoke mixture, then the ink was incorporated by repeatedly punching a special needle called “the staple” which followed the lines of the drawing, until the small lacerations bleed. This was a painful operation, which often produced irritation and swelling on the tattooed part with, sometimes, bad infections too.
The cost for the tattoo in 1930 was about one lira.

Immagini Sacre che venivano tatuate ai pellegrini


Time tarnishes our memories; then it fades them, until they are completely erased. In the end we believe that there is nothing to remember and we accept the present as the only true reality, with only the future to intrigue us.
But, if an object or an image speaks to us about the past, our soul melts into regret of lost things, or it takes pleasure on our completed journey .
In any case, looking at the past, helps us to feel closer to our people and our jobs. Perhaps this is why there is a blooming of publications about the history of small towns; we are looking at our family photo albums always trying to find people and places that we don’t even know but to which we feel somehow linked to.
It is the relationship with our roots, the yearning of not feeling suspended in the void, but firmly tied to something that existed long before us.

Tatuaggio Sacro e Profano di Loreto marcato manualmente come da tradizione .Stencil effettuato attraverso la riproduzione dello stampo.Tattootool con la Madonna di Loreto progettato da Jona

Tavolette di bosso utilizzate dai marcatori di Loreto per imprimere il disegno



-Bruno Longarini , Adalberto Solari, Viaggio dentro Loreto  a cura della Cassa di Risparmio di Loreto.

– Caterina Pigorini Beri” Costumi e superstizioni dell’ Appennino marchigiano 1889.

-C.Corrain-M.Capitanio- F.Grimaldi “Il tatuaggio religioso in Loreto 1977