Marks resembling the wounds of the crucified Christ that appear inexplicably on the limbs and body of certain sensitive individuals, especially Christian mystics. The most common stigmata are marks on a person's hands and feet resembling piercing with nails, sometimes accompanied by bleeding. Other stigmata include the weals of scourging, wounds on the shoulder and side, the bruising of the wrists (where Christ was bound with cords), and marks on the mouth (paralleling the effect of the sponge soaked in vinegar). The most dangerous stigma is the Ferita or heart wound, which under normal circumstances can cause death.
There have been hundreds of cases of stigmata over the last two thousand years, many of them on the bodies of women. In spite of some actual or suspected frauds, most of these cases seem genuine, and some individuals bearing stigmata have been canonized or beatified by the Roman Catholic Church. In those cases, the stigmata was one of many criteria used to determine canonization and church authorities have never used belief in stigmatization as a mark of holiness.
Some people believe the Apostle St. Paul was the first stigmatic. He wrote in an epistle: Ego enim stigmata Domini Jesus in corpore meo porto. In the first twelve centuries of the history of the church his words were taken figuratively. There were ascetics who had wounds attributed to the teeth and claws of the devil on their body, but it was St. Francis of Assisi (died 1226) from whom the history of stigmatic wounds really dates. He was also reported to have manifested the phenomenon of bilocation. He carried the marks of stigmata during the final two years of his life. He fasted all through the 40-day fast of St. Michael and concentrated his thoughts on the Passion of Christ.
Not only was his flesh torn and bleeding at the five places, but
"… his hands and feet appeared to be pierced through the middle with nails, the heads of which were in the palm of his hands and the soles of his feet; and the points came out again in the back of the hands and the feet, and were turned back and clinched in such a manner that within the bend formed by the reversal of the points a finger could easily be placed as in a ring, and the heads of the nails were found and black. They were the source of constant pain and of the utmost inconvenience. He could walk no more and became exhausted by the suffering and loss of blood. It hastened his premature decease…. After the death of Francis … a certain cavalier, named Jeronime, who had much doubted and was incredulous concerning them … ventured, in the presence of the brethren and many seculars to move about the nails in the hands and feet."
The Reverend F. Fielding-Ould, in his book Wonders of the Saints (1919), conjectured that the nails were of some horny material the body is able to naturally develop.
La Bienheureuse Lucie de Narni (1476-1544) carried stigmata for seven years, from 1496 onward. Reportedly, four years after her death, her body was exhumed. It was perfectly preserved and exhaled a sweet scent. The stigmatic wounds on her sides were open and blood flowed from time to time. In 1710 she was again exhumed and the body was found still intact.
The stigmatic wounds of Johnanna della Croce, 1524, appeared every Friday and vanished the following Sunday.
St. Veronique Giuliani, born in 1660, received the crown of thorns at the age of 33. On April 5, 1679, the five wounds developed.
Seventy-five years after the death of St. Francis 30 stigmatic cases were on record, including twenty-five women. Dr. Antoine Imbert-Gourbeyre in his monograph L'Hypnotisme et la Stigmatisation (1899) recorded more than 321 cases, and men comprised a seventh of the cases. This number includes the "compatients." and not those instances in which the stigmatic wounds were considered the work of the devil.
The "compatients" or participants did not exhibit the physiological signs of stigmatization in the form of wounds. It is believed to be an inner, psychical experience, noticeable, however, by outsiders as well. For instance, the complexion of Jeanne de Marie-Jesus in the ecstatic state of the Passion became dark and blue, the blood mounted under her nails, bruises appeared on her arms and hands as if left by chains, her forehead and other parts of her body sweated blood.
Of the cases enumerated by Imbert-Gourbeyre, 29 occurred in the nineteenth century. Catherine Emmerich (1774-1821) furnished one case. Count Stolberg, the celebrated naturalist, visited her in 1821. We learn from his description that for months the nun of Dolmen ate small portions of an apple, plum or cherry and drank water daily. The thorn wounds on her head opened every Friday morning and later blood flowed continuously from eight wounds on her hands and feet.
Research in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
Marie-Dominique Lazzari, Marie-Agnes Steiner, Marie de Moerl (1812-68), Crescenzia Nierklutsch, Victorie Courtier (1811-88), Louise Lateau (1858-83), Marie-Julie Jahenny, Therese Neumann (died 1962) and Padre Pio (died 1968) bring the line of stigmatists to the twentieth century.
Padre Pio (Francesco Forgione of Pietrelcina) was a Capucin monk in the convent of San Giovanni Rotondo. Reportedly, in 1918 bleeding scars pierced his hands and feet and produced appoximately a glassful of blood and water daily. Physicians certified the fact. In 1926 the stigmata of Therese Neumann, of Konnersreuth, developed during Lent. There was no evidence of infection or inflammation and blood flowed freely every Friday from the wounds. She also shed tears of blood.
In some cases the stigmata appear as simple red marks, in others as blister-like wounds oozing blood and lymph. The flow of blood, according to many testimonies, conforms to the supposed position of a body on the cross. The individual bearing stigmata may lie in bed and the blood appears to flow up the toes in defiance of gravity. In the case of Dominique Lazzari, of Tyrol, Lord Shrewsbury testified to this fact. He also referred to the statement of a German physician that the stigmatic could not endure water and was never washed, yet the blood sometimes suddenly disappeared, leaving the stigmatic with clean skin on unsoiled bedding. The wounds were often said to be luminous and to exhale a scent. Supposedly, the wounds never produced pus and after death the entire body frequently became exempt from putrefaction.
During the nineteenth century, physicians investigated some 29 reported cases of stigmatization and were convinced of the honesty of the subjects and the objective reality of the phenomenon.
One difficulty in assessing the strictly Christian spiritual value of stigmatization is due to the perception that some stigmatics have not been especially religious. Moreover similar phenomena have been reported of Islamic ascetics, who appear to have reproduced the wounds received by Muhammed the Prophet in spreading the message of Islam. Experiments with posthypnotic suggestion have shown that burns, blisters, and similar wounds may be produced on the body as a result of strong suggestion, and it is possible that some cases of stigmatization resulted from conscious or unconscious selfhypnosis.
Professor Jean-Martin Charcot was the first to demonstrate in an experiemnt the role of autosuggestion in stigmatic or borderland phenomena. Hereward Carrington in Psychic Oddities (1952) cited this case from an original document:
"On the afternoon of May 1st, 1916, I was standing in my hall, preparing to go out, when I saw the knob of my front door slowly turn. I stood still, awaiting developments; gradually the door opened, and I saw a man standing there. As he saw me he quickly closed the door and ran down the stairs and out of the front door. (He was, in fact, a burglar, trying to enter my apartment.) The interesting thing about the experience is this: that during the moment he was standing in the door, although he did not actually move, I had the distinct impression that he had run up the hall and grasped me firmly by the arm, and I was for the moment petrified with fear. The next day my arm was black and blue in the exact spot where I thought he had pinched me; and this mark continued for several days until it finally wore off. I told Dr. Carrington about this two days later when he called, and showed him the mark. Louise W. Kops."
Charles Richet stated that marks of stigmata,
"… may and do often appear on hysterical persons, bearing predetermined forms and shapes, under the influence either of a strong moral emotion, or of religious delirium. These are facts which have been thoroughly and scientifically established, and they only prove the power of the action of the brain upon the circulatory processes and upon the trophism of the skin."
As a mediumistic phenomenon, it was reported by many experimenters, including J. Malcolm Bird, in his book My Psychic Adventures (1924). Additionally, the stigmatization of Eleonore Zügun, who had strange bites and scratches on her body, was supposedly recorded in the process of invisible production by the camera.
An experience, resembling stigmatization, was mentioned by Richet in a footnote to his book Thirty Years of Psychical Research (1923). Supposedly, Count Baschieri placed a handkerchief to his eyes and withdrew it stained with blood. His eyes had sweated blood. He was unable to discover any conjunctional ecchymosis.
Dermography (skin writing) is a phenomenon of the stigmatic class, but there is an essential difference. Reportedly, stigmata last for months, years, or throughout a lifetime, whereas skin writing disappears in a few minutes or a few hours at the most. A kindred phenomenon to stigmatization is the mark of a burn or in rare cases blood left by the touch of phantom hands.
Reportedly, some devout Christians experience stigmatization. Such individuals usually exhibit wounds that bleed on Good Friday, sometimes accompanied by a personal identification with Christ during crucifixion.
The Case of Ethel Chapman
The phenomenon of stigmatization was studied in the case of British subject Ethel Chapman. A victim of multiple sclerosis, Chapman was paralyzed from the waist down. She was unable to hold things in her hands. Chapman was a patient at the Cheshire Home in Britain, where she was interviewed by geriatrician Dr. Colin Powell, who found no indication of depression, neurosis, or psychosis. There was also no indication of the condition known as dermatitis artifacta, when subjects scratch or otherwise harm themselves for various reasons. Chapman appeared friendly, mentally stable, and far from gaining any psychological advantage from stigmata, she found it a burden. Various witnesses testified to seeing wounds on Chapman's hands and feet on Good Friday. In a BBC radio interview in 1973, Chapman gave a description of her first vision and sensations in the following words:
"I remember saying quite plainly 'Oh Lord, please show me in some way you're there.' In the early hours of the morning, I thought it was a dream. I felt myself being drawn on to the Cross. I felt the pain of the nails through my hands and through my feet. I could see the crowds, all jeering and shouting and, of course, it was in a foreign language, I don't know what they were saying. I felt myself all the agony and all the pain that the Lord Himself went through…."
Chapman also claimed that on occasions she had been lifted up in the air and smelled supernatural sweet perfumes (see also odor of sanctity ). However, it is believed that sensations of floating often occur in subjects with heightened or mystical consciousness and do not involve any actual physical levitation. Reportedly, in some cases, "astral projection" or out-of-body experience may occur in which a subtle body appears to leave the physical body.
Witnesses affirmed seeing fresh blood on Chapman's hands on Good Friday and it is believed that Chapman was unable to inflict the wounds herself due to her paralysis. Neither Chapman nor her medical adviser at the Cheshire Home seemed interested in publicity or cultism. Chapman, like some other stigmatics, seemed to regard the phenomenon as a mark of divine love due to her illness. Word spread about Chapman's stigmata and people wrote asking for her help or healing. She regularly devoted time to prayers on behalf of the afflicted.
The objective aspects of such phenomena as stigmata take second place to the spiritual issues and their resolution. The rationalistic explanation of stigmata seems to be of interest chiefly for any light it may throw on the way that the phenomenon works, but it says nothing of the mystery of the function of stigmata in the spiritual life of the subject.
Carty, Charles M. The Two Stigmatists: Padre Pio & Therese Neumann. Dublin: Veritas, 1956.
Fielding-Ould, Fielding. The Wonders of the Saints in the Light of Spiritualism. London: John M. Watkins, 1919.
Siwek, Paul. The Riddle of Konnersreuth. Dublin: Browne & Nolan, 1956.
Summers, Montague. The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism. London: Rider, 1950.
Thurston, Herbert. The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism. London, 1952.
Wilson, Ian. The Bleeding Mind. London: Weidenfeld & Nic-olson, 1988.
Stigmata are spontaneous bleeding wounds which appear in various places on the body, such as the hands, the feet, the back, the forehead, and the side, and, in the Christian context, are considered to be manifestations of the suffering endured prior to, and during, Jesus' (c. 6 b.c.e.–c. 30 c.e.) Crucifixion. While theologians debate whether or not St. Paul himself may have been a stigmatic (Galatians 6:17—"I bear on my body the marks of Jesus"), St. Francis of Assisi (1181–1226) suddenly bore the wounds of Christ while praying outside a cave after a 40-day retreat in 1224, thereby becoming the first stigmatic recorded in the annals of church history. St. Francis is also the only stigmatic on whom the wounds in the feet and the hands actually bore representations of nails.
In 1275, a Cistercian nun named Elizabeth received stigmata on her forehead, representing Christ's crown of thorns, after she witnessed a vision of the Crucifixion. Church tradition has it that St. Catherine of Siena (1347–1380) was visited with the marks of Christ's suffering, but through her great humility she prayed that they might become invisible, and, though the pain of the wounds remained, her entreaty was granted and the blood no longer flowed. The Catholic Encyclopedia states that the suffering that stigmatics endure is the "essential part of visible stigmata; the substance of this grace consists of pity for Christ, participation in his sufferings, sorrows, and for the same end—the expiation of the sins unceasingly committed in the world." If the stigmatics did not suffer, the wounds would be "but an empty symbol, theatrical representation, conducing to pride." And if the stigmata truly issue from God, it would be unworthy of his wisdom to participate in such futility, "and to do so by a miracle."
While not yet blessed with sainthood, Padre Pio (1887–1968), one of the most well-known stigmatics of the twentieth century, saw a vision of a mysterious person whose hands, feet, and side were dripping blood on August 20, 1918. After Padre Pio was delivered from such a terrifying sight, the priest suffered the first of the stigmata which would cause his wounds to bleed daily for 50 years.
Therese Neumann (1898–1962) was also a stigmatic who became familiar to the general public. Born between Good Friday and Easter at Konnersreuth, Bavaria, Neumann suffered a series of serious accidents that brought blindness, convulsions, and paralysis. Her eyesight was restored on the day of the beatification of St. Therese of Lisieux (1873–1897), April 29, 1923, and on the day of St. Therese's canonization on May 17, 1925, her mobility returned. Then, after a vision of Jesus on March 4, 1926, the stigmata began, and she would suffer bleeding from all the wounds, including shoulders and knees, on Fridays, especially during the church season of Lent. It is claimed that from Christmas 1926 until her death in 1962, Neumann didn't eat or drink anything except daily Communion.
For those saints who were also stigmatics or for those stigmatics who may be authentic, the church has issued three qualifications regarding the production of the phenomena on their bodies:
- Physicians could not succeed in curing the wounds with their remedies.
- Unlike long-lasting wounds in others, those of stigmatics give off no foul or fetid odor.
- Sometimes the wounds of the stigmatics emit the odor of perfumes.
In April 1998, various media carried the story of a priest who began to manifest stigmata in his side, hands, and feet while serving a parish in Antigua, West Indies. Reverend Gerard Critch was flown to New York to be treated by medical specialists. Dr. Joseph John was quoted as saying that no treatment he had given Critch had worked or been effective. According to Critch's parishioners, they were thrown to the floor by an invisible force or felt their injuries healed when he blessed them. R. Allen Stanford, a banker from the United States who flew Critch to New York City on his private jet, said that oil was oozing from the marks on the priest's feet, as it did from Jesus. "The wounds were real," Stanford said (Evening Telegram, April 11, 1998).
The Roman Catholic Church does not see the onset of stigmata as bringing with it any increase of holiness, so its clergy recognizes the real possibility of conscious or unconscious fraud in some of the cases of stigmata reported almost annually. The church also acknowledges the role that psychosomatic medicine might play in explaining many instances of the spontaneous wounds that mimic those of Christ's Crucifixion. Some people who suffer from stigmata report having felt sadness, depression, a general malaise, and physical pain prior to the bleeding. Many stigmatics could be so emotionally involved with the passion of Christ that their imagination could somehow manifest the physiological phenomena of the bleeding wounds. Perhaps those who enter deep states of trance or religious ecstasy might trigger a mind-body link capable of producing stigmata. And the phenomenon is not exclusively a Christian one. Cases are also known of Muslim stigmatics who bear wounds that correspond to those known to have been suffered by Muhammed (c. 570 c.e.–632 c.e.) while doing battle.
Carty, Rev. Charles M. Padre Pio the Stigmatist. Dublin: Clonmore and Reynolds, 1955.
Crim, Keith, gen. ed. The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989.
Steiner, Johannes. Therese Neumann. New York: Alba House, 1967.
Wilson, Ian. Stigmata. New York: Harper & Row, 1989.
The appearance of stigmata varies greatly. Stigmata have ranged from the nail imprints of St Francis' wounds — for which Francis consequently required bandages to cover the protruding nail shapes so that he might use his hands and feet (though he had no bandages from Thursday evening to Saturday morning in order that he might share Christ's Good Friday suffering) — to cuts of varying length and depth, blisters, and scabs of dried blood. Bleeding or manifestation of the stigmata might in some cases be continual while in other cases occur only periodically — for example, in Lent and Holy Week, or on particular days of the week, especially Fridays or Good Friday. In the case of Padre Pio, the twentieth-century stigmatic, his hands bled lightly but almost continually, soaking the gloves he wore, and the wound in his chest produced a cup of blood each day.
Stigmata are often accompanied by other bodily phenomena such as pain, blood, sweats, levitations, or even lameness or blindness, and they quite often occur in people who are already ill or are voluntarily abstaining from food for religious reasons. Many of the women nuns and saints who fasted and/or existed on the host alone, in late medieval and early modern Europe, received the stigmata, such as St Catherine of Sienna, who fasted — except for eating the blessed host — for eight years. Stigmatics often receive religious visions or ecstasies, having visions of Christ and various saints, and also ‘re-living’ or seeing parts of Christ's passion and sharing in his suffering.
Stigmata seem to have begun to appear only in the thirteenth century, with the growing popularity of the imitation of Christ, especially the suffering Christ, in patterns of piety and devotional life. Of some 330 recorded cases of persons receiving the stigmata, only about 60 of those have been made saints. The official Roman Catholic position towards stigmata has always been rather guarded.
It seems that the vast majority of stigmatics have been women. In the case of the late medieval and early modern female religious, their receiving the stigmata has been interpreted as one of a number of experiences or phenomena, including fasting and other forms of asceticism, by which women participated in the imitation of Christ. Through their bodies they could share in the suffering of Christ, who in his body suffered to save humankind, and by the signs of their suffering, such as the stigmata, they gained access to power and authority, not by virtue of office (which was denied them) but through experience. In the modern period, female stigmatics have been consistently subjected to medical testing, in the quest for authenticity, and there is an abundance of medical evidence for stigmatics, such as Catherine Emmerich (1774–1824), Louise Lateau (1850–83), and the early twentieth-century Teresa Neumann. In nineteenth-century France especially, this kind of medical testing of female bodies by male doctors bears some comparison with Charcot's study of hysteria, especially as stigmatics and hysterics were seen to share some of the same pathologies or symptoms. In both cases the body was seen to hold the ‘truth’. A medical doctor, Imbert-Gourbeyre, visited and examined as many of the nineteenth-century stigmatics as he could, as well as examining and compiling evidence about other unusual religious phenomena such as the miracles reported at Lourdes, and his medical study of 1894, La Stigmatisation, I'extase divine, les miracles de Lourdes, illustrates very well this sort of approach.
See also body mutilation and markings; saints.
Stigmata ★½ 1999 (R)
Disappointing horror flick that's campy instead of creepy. Airhead Pittsburgh beautician Frankie (Arquette) doesn't even believe in God, so why is she suddenly afflicted with visions and seizures that leave her with Christ-like wounds? Could it have anything to do with the rosary her vacationing mom sent her from Brazil? When the media picks up the story, the Vatican decides to send Father Kiernan (Byrne, who makes a very sexy priest) to check things out. Lots of hokey mumbo-jumbo ensues. 103m/C VHS, DVD . Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, Jonathan Pryce, Portia de Rossi, Patrick Muldoon, Nia Long, Thomas Kopache, Rade Serbedzija, Enrico Colantoni, Dick Latessa, Ann Cusack; D: Rupert Wainwright; W: Rick Ramage, Tom Lazarus; C: Jeffrey L. Kimball; M: Elia Cmiral.