Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo
Hands with Stigmata
Hands with Stigmata, depicted on a Franciscan church in Lienz, Austria.

Stigmata (singular stigma) is a term used by members of the Christian faith to describe bodily marks, sores, or sensations of pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ, such as the hands, wrists, and feet.

The term originates from the line at the end of Saint Paul's Letter to the Galatians where he says, "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus." Stigmata is the plural of the Greek word ...... stigma, meaning a mark, tattoo,[1] or brand such as might have been used for identification of an animal or slave. An individual bearing stigmata is referred to as a stigmatic or a stigmatist.

Stigmata are primarily associated with the Roman Catholic faith. Many reported stigmatics are members of Catholic religious orders.[2] St. Francis of Assisi was the first recorded stigmatic in Christian history. For over fifty years Padre Pio of Pietrelcina of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin reported stigmata which were studied by several 20th century physicians, whose independence from the Church is not known. The observations were reportedly unexplainable and the wounds never became infected.

A high percentage (perhaps over 80%) of all stigmatics are women.[3] In his Stigmata: A Medieval Phenomenon in a Modern Age, Edward Harrison suggests that there is no single mechanism whereby the marks of stigmata were produced.

Description

St. Francis considered stigmata part of the imitation of Christ
St. Francis considered stigmata part of the imitation of Christ.[4][5]

Reported cases of stigmata take various forms. Many show some or all of five Holy Wounds that were, according to the Bible, inflicted on Jesus during his crucifixion: wounds in the wrists and feet, from nails, and in the side, from a lance. Some stigmatics display wounds to the forehead similar to those caused by the Crown of Thorns.[3] Stigmata as crown of thorns appearing in the 20th century, e.g. on Marie Rose Ferron, have been repeatedly photographed.[6][7][8] Other reported forms include tears of blood or sweating blood, and wounds to the back as from scourging.

Many stigmata show recurring bleeding that stops and then starts, at times after receiving Holy Communion, and a large percentage of stigmatics have shown a high desire to frequently receive Holy Communion.[3] A relatively high percentage of stigmatics also exhibit inedia, living with minimal (or no) food or water for long periods of time, except for the Holy Eucharist, and some exhibit loss of weight.[3]

The ecstasy and sufferings usually began for the Saints who suffered stigmata starting on Thursday and ending on Friday afternoon around 3 or 4 o'clock. All the recipients of this mystical wounding suffered dreadfully. Many of the stigmatics experienced cruel rejection and suspicion before their wounds were authenticated. Saints who suffered stigmata were carefully watched day and night so that tampering with the wounds could not be performed. When these methods were used, a number of false stigmatics were exposed. Sometimes this stigmata became invisible on express request and prayers by the Saints who suffered them.[9]

Some stigmatics claim to feel the pain of wounds with no external marks; these are referred to as invisible stigmata. In other claims, stigmata are accompanied by extreme pain. Some stigmatics' wounds do not appear to clot, and stay fresh and uninfected. The blood from the wounds is said, in some cases, to have a pleasant, perfumed odor, known as the Odour of Sanctity.

Individuals who have obtained the stigmata are many times described as ecstatics. At the time of receiving the stigmata they are overwhelmed with emotions.

No case of stigmata is known to have occurred before the thirteenth century, when the depiction of the crucified Jesus in Western Christendom emphasized his humanity.[10]

In his paper Hospitality and Pain, Christian theologian Ivan Illich states: "Compassion with Christ... is faith so strong and so deeply incarnate that it leads to the individual embodiment of the contemplated pain." His thesis is that stigmata result from exceptional poignancy of religious faith and desire to associate oneself with the suffering Messiah.

Specific cases

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi is the first recorded stigmatic in Christian history.[11] In 1224, two years before his death, he embarked on a journey to Mt. La Verna for a forty day fast. One morning near the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, a six winged angel allegedly appeared to Francis while he prayed. As the angel approached, Francis could see that the angel was crucified. He was humbled by the sight, and his heart was filled with elation joined by pain and suffering. When the angel departed, Francis was purportedly left with wounds in his hands, feet, and side as if caused by the same lance that pierced Christ.s side. The image of nails immediately appeared in his hands and feet, and the wound in his side often seeped blood.[12]

x

St. Francis' first biographer, Thomas of Celano, reports the event as follows in his 1230 First Life of St. Francis:

"When the blessed servant of God saw these things he was filled with wonder, but he did not know what the vision meant. He rejoiced greatly in the benign and gracious expression with which he saw himself regarded by the seraph, whose beauty was indescribable; yet he was alarmed by the fact that the seraph was affixed to the cross and was suffering terribly. Thus Francis rose, one might say, sad and happy, joy and grief alternating in him. He wondered anxiously what this vision could mean, and his soul was uneasy as it searched for understanding. And as his understanding sought in vain for an explanation and his heart was filled with perplexity at the great novelty of this vision, the marks of nails began to appear in his hands and feet, just as he had seen them slightly earlier in the crucified man above him. His wrists and feet seemed to be pierced by nails, with the heads of the nails appearing on his wrists and on the upper sides of his feet, the points appearing on the other side. The marks were round on the palm of each hand but elongated on the other side, and small pieces of flesh jutting out from the rest took on the appearance of the nail-ends, bent and driven back. In the same way the marks of nails were impressed on his feet and projected beyond the rest of the flesh. Moreover, his right side had a large wound as if it had been pierced with a spear, and it often bled so that his tunic and trousers were soaked with his sacred blood." [13]

St. Pio of Pietrelcina

A young Padre Pio showing the stigmata
A young Padre Pio showing the stigmata.

For over fifty years, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina reported stigmata which were studied by several 20th century physicians, whose independence from the Church is not known.[14] [15][16] The observations were reportedly unexplainable and the wounds never became infected.[14][15][17] His wounds healed once, but reappeared.[18] The wounds were examined by Luigi Romanelli, chief physician of the City Hospital of Barletta, for about one year. Dr. Giorgio Festa, a private practitioner, also examined them in 1920 and 1925. Professor Giuseppe Bastianelli, physician to Pope Benedict XV, agreed that the wounds existed but made no other comment. Pathologist Dr. Amico Bignami of the University of Rome also observed the wounds, but could make no diagnosis.[19] Both Bignami and Dr. Giuseppe Sala commented on the unusually smooth edges of the wounds and lack of edema. Dr. Alberto Caserta took X-rays of the hands in 1954 and found no abnormality in the bone structure.[20]

Scientific research

Stigmata I by Mexican artist Mauricio Garcia
"Stigmata I" by Mexican artist Mauricio GarcĂ­ga.

Some modern research has indicated stigmata are of hysterical origin,[21] or linked to dissociative identity disorders,[22] especially the link between dietary constriction by self-starvation, dissociative mental states and self-mutilation, in the context of a religious belief.[23] Anorexia nervosa cases often display self-mutilation similar to stigmata as part of a ritualistic, obsessive compulsive disorder. A relationship between starvation and self-mutilation has been reported amongst prisoners of war and during famines.[24][25][26] A psychoanalytic study of stigmatic Therese Neumann has suggested that her stigmata resulted from post-traumatic stress symptoms expressed in unconscious self-mutilation through abnormal autosuggestibility.[27]

In his Stigmata: A Medieval Phenomenon in a Modern Age, Edward Harrison suggests that there is no single mechanism whereby the marks of stigmata were produced. Harrison found no evidence from a study of contemporary cases that the marks were supernatural in origin. He concluded, however, that marks of natural origin need not be hoaxes. Some stigmatics marked themselves in attempt to suffer with Christ as a form of piety. Others marked themselves accidentally and their marks were noted as stigmata by witnesses. Often marks of human origin produced profound and genuine religious responses. Harrison also noted that the male-to-female ratio of stigmatics, which for many centuries had been of the order of 7 to 1, had changed over the last 100 years to a ratio of 5:4. Appearance of stigmata frequently coincided with times when issue of authority loomed large in the Church. What was significant about stigmatics was not that they were predominantly men, but that they were non-ordained. Having stigmata gave them direct access to the body of Christ without requiring the permission of the Church through the Eucharist. Only in the last century have priests been stigmatized.[28]

From the records of St. Francis. physical ailments and symptoms, Dr. Edward Hartung concluded in 1935 that he knew what health problems plagued the holy man. Hartung believed that he had an eye ailment known as trachoma, but also had quartan malaria. Quartan malaria infects the liver, spleen, and stomach, causing the victim intense pain. One complication of quartan malaria occasionally seen around Francis.s time is known as purpura, a purple hemorrhage of blood into the skin. Purpuras usually occur symmetrically, so each hand and foot would have been affected equally. If this were the case of St. Francis, he would have been afflicted by ecchymoses, an exceedingly large purpura. The purple spots of blood may have been punctured while in the wilderness and therefore appear as an open wound like that of Christ.[29]

Non-Christian stigmata

Among the Warao of the Orinoco Delta, a contemplator of tutelary spirits may mystically induce the development of "openings in the palms of his hands."[30] That these tutelary spirits are presented by the "itiriti snake" makes for a close analogue with the Seraph who endowed Francis of Assisi with his stigmata.

Buddhist "stigmata"[31][32] are regularly indicated in Buddhist art.

Notable stigmatics

References

  1. ^ Jones, C.P. (1987) Stigma: Tattooing & Branding in Graeco-Roman Antiquity. J. Roman Studies 77, 139-155.
  2. ^ Poulain, A. (1912). Mystical Stigmata. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved July 1, 2008 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14294b.htm
  3. ^ a b c d Catholic cults and devotions: a psychological inquiry by Michael P. Carroll 1989 ISBN 0-7735-0693-4 pages 80-84
  4. ^ Saint Francis of Assisi by Jacques Le Goff 2003 ISBN 0-415-28473-2 page 44
  5. ^ The Word made flesh: a history of Christian thought by Margaret Ruth Miles 2004 ISBN 978-1-4051-0846-1 pages 160-161
  6. ^ Michael Freze, 1993, They bore the wounds of Christ, OSV Publishing ISBN 0-87973-422-1 page 125
  7. ^ A Stigmatist: Marie-Rose Ferron by Jeanne S. Bonin 1988 ISBN 2-89039-161-2 page 153
  8. ^ Religion and American cultures: an encyclopedia of traditions, Volume 1 by Gary Laderman, LuĂ­ LeĂł ISBN 1-57607-238-X page 336
  9. ^ Mysteries, Marvels, Miracles in the Lives of Saints by Joan Carroll Cruz ISBN 978-0-89555-541-0
  10. ^ "Catholic Encyclopedia: Mystical Stigmata". http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14294b.htm. Retrieved 2008-07-02.
  11. ^ "What's the deal with stigmata?". The Straight Dope. 1998-02-20. http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1163/whats-the-deal-with-stigmata. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
  12. ^ "Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi". Franciscan Friars T.O.R.. http://www.franciscanfriarstor.com/archive/stfrancis/stf_stigmata_of_st_francis.htm. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
  13. ^ "Medieval Sourcebook: Thomas of Celano: Lives of St. Francis". Fordham.edu. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/stfran-lives.html. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
  14. ^ a b "The Stigmatist". Time Magazine. 19 December 1949. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,855088,00.html. Retrieved 2008-01-19.
  15. ^ a b "A Padre's Patience". Time Magazine. 24 April 1964. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,870915,00.html. Retrieved 2008-01-19.
  16. ^ Marie osb, Dom Antoine (2000-04-24). "Letter on Blessed Pader Pio: Stigmata - Sacraments of Penance and Eucharist - Suffering". http://www.clairval.com/lettres/en/2000/04/24/2260400.htm. Retrieved 2006-09-27.
  17. ^ Michael Freze, 1989, They Bore the Wounds of Christ: The Mystery of the Sacred Stigmata, OSV Publishing ISBN 0-87973-422-1 page 283-285.
  18. ^ "Padre Pio". Britannica.com. 1968-09-23. http://www.britannica.com/ebc/article-9375317. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
  19. ^ "Padre Pio". Answers.com. http://www.answers.com/topic/pio-padre. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
  20. ^ Padre Pio: the true story by Bernard Ruffin, 1991 OSV Press ISBN 0-87973-673-9 pages 160-163
  21. ^ Thurston, Herbert (2007-02-01). The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism. Roman Catholic Books. ISBN 1-929291-91-4, 9781929291915.
  22. ^ Wilson, Ian (1991-03-28). The bleeding mind. Paladin. ISBN 0-586-09014-2, 9780586090145.
  23. ^ Daniel Fessler (2002). "Starvation, serotonin, and symbolism. A psychobiocultural perspective on stigmata". Mind and Society: Cognitive Studies in Economics and Social Sciences. Mind and Society: Cognitive Studies in Economics and Social Sciences 3 (2): 81.96. http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/anthro/faculty/fessler/pubs/FesslerStigmata.pdf. Retrieved 2009-09-12.
  24. ^ Yaryura-Tobias, Jose A.; Fugen A. Neziroglu, Steven Kaplan (1995). "Self-mutilation, anorexia, and dysmenorrhea in obsessive compulsive disorder". International Journal of Eating Disorders 17 (1): 33.38. doi:10.1002/1098-108X(199501)17:1<33::AID-EAT2260170104>3.0.CO;2-2. PMID 7894450.
  25. ^ Curtin, A. P. (1946). "Imprisonment under the Japanese". BMJ 2 (4476): 585.586. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.4476.585. ISSN 0959-8138. PMC 2054516. PMID 20786973. http://www.bmj.com/cgi/reprint/2/4476/585. Retrieved 2009-09-12.
  26. ^ The biology of human starvation. University of Minnesota Press. 1950.
  27. ^ Albright, M. (2002). "The Stigmata: The Psychological and Ethical Message of the Posttraumatic Sufferer". Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought 25 (3): 329.358.
  28. ^ Harrison, Ted (1994-10). Stigmata: A Medieval Phenomenon in a Modern Age. St Martins Press. ISBN 0-312-11372-2.
  29. ^ "Medicine: St. Francis' Stigmata". Time. 1935-03-11. ISSN 0040-718X. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,883261,00.html. Retrieved 2009-09-14.
  30. ^ Johannes Wilbert : Warao Basketry. OCCASIONAL PAPERS OF THE MUSEUM OF CULTURAL HISTORY, University of California at Los Angeles, No. 3, 1975. pp. 5-6
  31. ^ Keith Taylor & John Whitmore : Essays into Vietnamese Pasts. Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, 1985. p. 278
  32. ^ cited in Ing-Britt Trankell & Laura Summers : Facets of Power and Its Limitations. Department of Cultural Anthropology, Uppsala University, 1998. p. 24

Further reading

  • The Catholic Encyclopedia The Encyclopedia Press, 1913, Online Edition 2003, K. Knight.
  • Boyle, Alan, Science replays the crucifixion, MSNBC, 2005.
  • Carroll, Robert Todd, The Skeptics Dictionary, Wiley, 2003.
  • Living Miracles - Stigmata, Zentropa Real ApS. & Wonders Unlimited, 2005.
  • Sadaputa Dasa, Religion and Modern Rationalism: Shifting the Boundary Between Myth and Science, ISKCON Communications Journal #1.2, July/December 1993.

More Saints






Browse Saints by Category


Popular Saints

Rank

Saint

90.

Image of St. Margaret of Scotland

St. Margaret of Scotland

St. Margaret of Scotland, or Margaret of Wessex, was an English princess born in Hungary to Princess Agatha of Hungary and English Prince Edward the Exile around 1045. Her siblings, ... continue reading

91.

Image of St. Josephine Bakhita

St. Josephine Bakhita

St. Josephine Bakhita was born in Sudan in 1869. This African flower, who knew the anguish of kidnapping and slavery, bloomed marvelously in Italy, in response to God's grace, with the ... continue reading

92.

Image of St. Damien of Molokai

St. Damien of Molokai

The man who would become St. Damien of Molokai, was born in rural Belgium, on January 3, 1840. His name was Jozef De Veuster, and he was the youngest of seven children. Growing up on the ... continue reading

All Popular Saints

Saint of the Day

Image of St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas

The great veneration with which St. Nicholas has been honored for many ages and the number of altars and churches all over the world that are dedicated in his memory are testimonials to his wonderful ... continue reading

More Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day by E-Mail

Saint of the Day newsletter icon

Learn about the lives of the saints and other saint resources, including a calendar, over 5,000 saint biographies, our most popular saints, and a list of patron saints. 7 days / week. See Sample


Required


Female Saints

Image of St. Philomena

St. Philomena

Little is known of St. Philomena's life and she is the only Saint to have revealed her story via private revelation. She was martyred at about 14-years-old in the early days of the Church. In 1802 the remains of a young woman were found in the catacomb of Saint ... continue reading

More Female Saints



Saint Calendar
Saint Feast Days
Saint Fun Facts

Angels

Image of St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael the Archangel

Saint Michael the Archangel isn't a saint, but rather he is an angel, and the leader of all angels and of the army of God. This is what the title "Archangel" means, that he is above all the others in rank. St. Michael has four main responsibilities or offices, as we ... continue reading



Saints Fun Facts

Saints Fun Facts for St. Apollonius the Apologist

St. Apollonius the Apologist

Martyr whose Apologia, or defense of the faith, is considered one of the most priceless documents of the early Church. Apollonius was a Roman senator who was denounced as a Christian by one of his slaves. The Praetorian Prefect, Sextus Tigidius Perennis, arrested him, ... continue reading

Saints Fun Facts for St. Ava

St. Ava

Ava was the daughter of King Pepin. She was cured of blindness by St. Rainfredis, became a Benedictine nun at Dinart, Hainault, and later was elected Abbess. Her feast day is April 29th. continue reading



Christian Saints & Heroes

Image of Let us remember to give thanks for this day the Lord has made.

Quotes of the Saints - Five saints have a message for you on this Thanksgiving holiday

By Marshall Connolly, (California Network)

If you are an American, today is Thanksgiving. Hopefully today you have made a point to attend Mass and to give thanks to God for all His blessings. If you are not American, today's holiday is a reminder that God deserves thanks from all His creation. We pray you will ... continue reading

More Christian Saints & Heroes

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Isaiah 40:1-11
1 'Console my people, console them,' says your God.2 'Speak to ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 96:1-2, 3, 10, 11-12, 13
1 Sing a new song to Yahweh! Sing to Yahweh, all the earth!2 ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 18:12-14
12 'Tell me. Suppose a man has a hundred sheep and one of them strays; ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for December 6th, 2016 Image

St. Nicholas
December 6: The great veneration with which St. Nicholas has ... Read More