Rock of Ages

rock of ages tattoo design

“Rock of Ages” is one of the most famous traditional tattoo motifs. The story behind this classic began in 1763, when a priest from a small village in England named Augustus Toplady, was wandering from village to village when he was unexpectedly caught in a storm. He found refuge behind a large rock in a ravine that was nearby. While he was praying for his life, a song text came into his head. He wrote this text on a playing card and thus laid the foundation for the tattoo motif so well known today. Even the rock and roll legends Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash produced cover versions of the song, which had previously been known worldwide as the gospel version in 1830.

From the song to the painting

About 100 years after Pastor Toplady first wrote the song down, the notes became the painting that inspired many tattooists. The design: a woman clinging to a stone cross in the middle of the raging sea. A German painter named Simon Oertel painted this picture which allows different interpretations.

The meaning behind

One, which is favored by many, says that the woman on the motif represents a lost soul in the sea of sins, with no hope left, clinging only to the cross (the body of Christ).
Others, however, believe that the lady is a woman mourning for her drowned husband. She does not want to admit his death and clings to the grave of her beloved despite the storm. Often for this reason, a sinking ship is placed in the background.
Since the correct message behind Oertel’s painting has not been handed down, it can be interpreted in many ways. Most appropriately, it might reflect the hope and conviction in something. You will be able to defy any “thunderstorm” if you only believe in yourself firmly.
What does the motif mean to you?


In the traditional tattoo history, the Rock of Ages motif has been tattooed countless times. It is believed that Samuel O’Reiley was the first tattoo artist who immortalized this motif in the skin.
Allegedly, sailors used to hope to get a lesser punishment and especially not to be whipped if they had the Rock of Ages tattooed on their back. No one could punish the image of Jesus, they thought. Maybe this is also the reason why Rock of Ages has established itself as a backpiece classic.
Depending on the interpretation the Rock of Ages tattoo differs from others. Some tattoo artists orientate themselves on the original painting by Simon Oertel, which leads to a very simple tattoo. Others add sinking ships, mermaids or angels. There are no limits to creativity.

As inspiration you can find some photos of famous tattoo legends and the Rock of Ages motif. Percy Waters, Bert Grimm, Sailor Jerry and the Bowery Boys are just a few of the famous names.
Feel like one of the most classic tattoo motifs? Send us a mail or call at Good Old Times Tattoo Berlin. Swen is burning to tattoo your Rock of Ages!