For one day only, St. Nicholas Basilica in Amsterdam turned into the workplace of tattoo artist Henk Schiffmacher. The well-known Dutch artist tattooed his recently auctioned image of St. Nicholas on the forearm of the lucky winner.
As part of the Year of St. Nicholas, the basilica auctioned off a design Schiffmacher had made especially for the occasion. The design brought in around $470, while having it personally tattooed netted another $830. All of the proceeds of the auction will be used to benefit victims of sexual violence.
A beaming Rudolf Westerlink proudly showed off the new inkwork that Schiffmacher tattooed on his forearm.
“I didn’t have very much room left,” he said, laughing. “But in this way, it’s clearly visible.”
The image seems to be right up his alley.
“I have been an acolyte at St. Nicholas Basilica since 2014. St. Nicholas is also the patron saint of the city of Amsterdam, and so I feel very connected to him,” said Westerlink, who is also an Amsterdam native.
“Furthermore, it appeals to me that it is a kind of pilgrim tattoo. To top all that, I work a lot with the homeless. All of that comes together very nicely in this tattoo,” he added.
However, Westerlink wasn’t actually the highest bidder. He received the tattoo as a gift.
“I knew he really wanted the tattoo. It also suits him very well,” said Martijn Met, who made the winning bid.
Met said he loves the design.
“I lived in Amsterdam for fifteen years and often cycled past this basilica. I am not a Catholic but find it very beautiful that the modern world and the Church come together in this design. St. Nicholas’s works of mercy appeal to me. I myself also do volunteer work in my hometown of Alkmaar,” he said.
He will probably put the design on the wall of his home, although the exact spot still needs to be discussed with his wife.
After the tattoo session, Deacon Rob Polet blessed and anointed the tattoo on the acolyte’s arm. The ointment contained fluid from the bones of St. Nicholas. The special event very appropriately took place on the day of the “arrival” of St. Nicholas to the country.
The name day of Saint Nicholas (December 6th) is celebrated annually in the Netherlands with the giving of gifts on St. Nicholas’ Eve (December 5th). The festivities traditionally begin each year in mid-November when the figure of ‘Sinterklaas’ arrives by a steamboat at a designated seaside town, supposedly from Spain. The Dutch Sinterklaas is believed to be one of the sources of the American Santa Claus.
On Nov. 12, Schiffmacher had installed himself with his toolkit – and assisted by his wife – next to the altar of St. Nicholas. The altar has only been in the basilica for a year.
“A year ago, we were gifted a relic of the saint. The bone is probably a piece from the jaw or shoulders of St. Nicholas,” explained Polet. The deacon said he has noticed that an increasing number of people are lighting a candle in the basilica.
“It may be starting to look a bit like a pilgrimage site after all,” he said.
This article was exclusively translated for Crux by Susanne Kurstjens.