The Woman with the Cross Tattoo

Between July 2012 to the present day, over 600 sectarian attacks have been deliberately planned and systemically carried out against Coptic Christians in Egypt. These statistics do not include the hundreds of attacks carried out in the ten years prior, nor the thousands since the Coptic Church’s origins, tracing back to the first century. These numbers cannot sum up the amount of bloodshed that has stained the soils and seashores of the Middle East, nor the heartbreak that is so deeply entrenched into the hearts of Copts around the world.

October 9 marked Modern Coptic Martyrs Remembrance Day, in honour of the 27 martyred and 327 injured in Maspero, Egypt, on October 9, 2011. On this particular day, Copts had peacefully organized a sit-in demonstration at the Maspero television building, due to a church that was deliberately demolished after the government had claimed that it had been built without the appropriate license. These government groups also demanded that Christians were not to have loudspeakers in their churches and that they were to rid all churches of visible religious symbolism, including the cross and all visible Coptic architecture. In response to these peaceful demonstrations, the Egyptian army and security forces used riot gear, batons, live ammunition, and armored vehicles to attack Copts. These clashes resulted in nearly 30 deaths and over 300 injuries, marking this incident as the Maspero Massacre. Nine years later, close to no repercussions have been taken, and the massacre was brushed under the carpet, just as every targeted incident has ever been, since the beginning of Coptic history.

For those unfamiliar with the plight of the Copts since the very century, this is the story of hundreds of thousands, a story of unjust laws, of fleeing persecution, a story of the indigenous Christian peoples of the River Nile, ancestors of the pharaohs.

On my sixteenth birthday, I ask my mother if I can get a tattoo like hers on my wrist.
Raising an  eyebrow at me, she responds back, like she’s done, a thousand times before,
It’s not a tattoo, she says.

She gently strokes the cross on her wrist, a faraway look in her eyes.

I look down at her wrist, like I’ve done a thousand times before,The cross etched on it, in deep blue ink, like it had been done yesterday,
Placed carefully on the centre.

It’s not a tattoo, she says again.

Taking a deep breath, like she’s done a thousand times before,
She begins the story again.
Her story is the story of hundreds of thousands, before and after her,
A story of unjust laws, of fleeing persecution,
A story of the indigenous Christian peoples of the river Nile, ancestors of the pharaohs.

They call us the Nation of the Cross.

The origin story of my family begins in Egypt, trickling down, like the hot sun, into Sudan,
Lands rich with the heritage of the ancients, yet soils tainted with the blood of the martyrs. I know this story, it’s been etched into my brain, like the tattoo on my mother’s wrist,

But it’s not a tattoo, she says.

The cross, of blue ink, although barely noticeable, holds the weight of the cries of the people,
The Copts, who have been persecuted for the God that they worship.
You see, when you’re a minority in the homeland that is no longer yours,
Where do you flee to?

It was the law, she says,
Every Christian had to etch a cross on their wrist,
That way, no matter where you go, everyone will know where you’ve come from.
They’ll know who you are, they’ll know that they can kill you…and justify it.
If you were one of the lucky ones, she says, they’ll look at your tattoo and know where to bury you. 

But it’s not a tattoo, she says, it’s a burden.
And when the burden became too much to bare, she says,
we fled, with nothing but the clothes on our backs,
So that you would never have to know what it feels like to not be free.

It’s not a tattoo, she says,

It’s a reminder of what could have been, but was not,
A memoire of our journey, in both this life and the next,
It’s not a tattoo, she says.

They call us the Nation of the Cross.

Hard pressed, yet not crushed,
Perplexed, but not in despair,
Persecuted, but not forsaken,
Struck down, but never destroyed.

It’s not a tattoo, she says.

It’s who we are,
It’s who we’ve always been,
It’s who we always will be.

We are the Nation of the Cross,

And this cross on my hand, she says,
Although etched with the blood of those before and after us,
is a reminder.
That no matter what,
Although they can take your life,
They can never take your soul.

It’s not a tattoo, she says.

Source: Monica Reyad, YouTube.

Monica Reyad is a political science and international development graduate, currently completing her master’s degree in teaching. Monica first started writing when she created a blog based on political issues stemming from her home country. Later on, Monica discovered poetry by accident while procrastinating on assignments during Covid-19, as it became a source of emotional distress. Besides poetry, Monica loves reading, singing, and laughing.

Join our mailing list to receive the latest posts and updates from our Acta.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This