The stigmata is the spontaneous appearance of the wound marks of our crucified Lord on a person’s body. These marks include the nail wounds at the feet and the hands, the lance wound at the side, the head wounds from the crown of thorns, and the scourge marks over the entire body, particularly the back. A stigmatic (i.e. the person suffering from the stigmata) may have one, several, or all of these wound marks. Moreover, they may be visible or invisible, and they may be permanent, periodic, or temporary in appearance.
People who have stigmata exhibit wounds that duplicate or represent those that Jesus is said to have endured during his crucifixion. The wounds typically appear on the stigmatic’s hands and feet (as from crucifixion spikes) and also sometimes on the side (as from a spear) and hairline (as from a crown of thorns).
The first case of stigmata—the appearance of marks or actual wounds like those Christ received during the Crucifixion—was recorded in 1224
The most famous stigmatic in history was Francesco Forgione (1887-1968), better known as Padre Pio, or Pio of Pietrelcina. The most beloved Italian saint of the last century, Padre Pio first began noticing red wounds appearing on his hands in 1910, and the phenomenon progressed until he experienced full stigmata in 1918 as he prayed in front of a crucifix in his monastery’s chapel.
Padre Pio was said to have been able to fly, and also to bilocate (to be in two places at once); his stigmata was allegedly accompanied by a miraculous perfume; the Rev. Charles Mortimer Carty, in his 1963 biography of the saint, noted that it smelled of “violets, lilies, roses, incense, or even fresh tobacco,” and “whenever anyone notices the perfume it is a sign that God bestows some grace through the intercession of Padre Pio.”
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. The observations were reportedly inexplicable and the wounds never became infected. His wounds healed once, but reappeared.
The wounds were examined by Luigi Romanelli, chief physician of the City Hospital of Barletta, for about one year. The physician Angelo Maria Merla noted that the wounds were not tubercular in origin but could not make an official diagnosis without further tests. The surgeon Giorgio Festa, a private practitioner, also examined them in 1920 and 1925. Professor Giuseppe Bastianelli, physician to Pope Benedict XV, examined the wounds, but no report of his examinations was made. Pathologist Amico Bignami of the University of Rome also observed the wounds describing them as shallow.
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 στίγμα stigma, meaning a mark, tattoo, or brand such as might have been used for identification of an animal or slave.
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. Stigmata as crown of thorns appearing in the 20th century, e.g. on Marie Rose Ferron, have been repeatedly photograph. Other reported forms include tears of blood or sweating blood, and wounds to the back as from scourging.
St. Francis of Assisi is the first recorded stigmatic in Christian history. In 1224, two years before his death, he embarked on a journey to Mount La Verna for a forty-day fast. One morning near the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, a six-winged angel reportedly 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. In traditional artistic depictions of the incident, Francis is accompanied by a Franciscan brother.
Stigmata and Science.
An early neurologist Désiré-Magloire Bourneville published works which stated that saintsclaiming to produce miracles or stigmata, and those claiming to be possessed were actually suffering from epilepsy or hysteria. Some modern research has indicated stigmata are of hysterical origin or linked to
Doctors Find No Medical Reason for a Paralyzed Woman’s Stigmata
When witnesses at the Cheshire Home in England confirmed that they had seen fresh blood on Ethel Chapman’s hands on Good Friday, they concluded that she was unable to inflict the wounds herself. Afflicted by multiple sclerosis, Chapman was paralyzed from the waist down. She was unable to hold things in her hands, nor was she found to have suffered from any kind of depression, neurosis, or psychosis.
Ethel explained her mystical visions in an interview with the BBC in 1973. ‘‘I remember saying quite plainly ‘Oh Lord, please show me in some way you’re there.’ I felt myself being drawn on to the Cross. I felt the pain of the nails through my hands and through my feet… I felt myself all the agony and all the pain that the Lord Himself went through.”
Chapman also claimed that she had levitated and smelled sweet perfumes. She regarded her experiences as a form of divine love due to her illness. As word spread about her stigmata, Chapman spent the rest of her life devoting prayers to those who asked her for help or healing
Illiterate Woman Bleeds Christian Writings and Symbols in Different Languages
Natuzza Evolo never learned to read or write. Instead, she was left to care for her younger siblings after her father deserted the family, making it impossible for her to go to school. It is odd then that Natuzza’s stigmata would take the form of hemography–the process by which blood from the stigmata is miraculously formed into Christian writing, images or symbols on bandages and other types of cloth–and that many of the words were in Hebrew or Aramaic.
For decades, devote Catholics from all over Italy would seek out Natuzza for advice and prayers, and many spoke of being miraculously healed by her or receiving other graces. When she died in 2009, thousands came to pay their respects. The cause for her beatification is expected to start very soon.
Stigmatic Woman Took No Food or Water for Almost 40 Years
Once a strong, healthy woman, Therese Neumann was partially paralyzed and left in great pain after a fall from a stool while attending a fire in her uncle’s barn. From then on, Therese forced herself to be active as much as her limitations would permit her, but her efforts resulted in more accidents and injuries, and by 1919 Therese was not only bedridden but totally blind.
Unable to move and ridden with bedsores that exposed bone, Therese turned to God. On the day of the beatification ceremonies for the Carmelite nun Therese of Lisieux, Therese Nuemann found that her sight was completely restored. Two years later, as Therese of Lisieux was canonized, she was visited by an apparition of the saint that told her she would walk again.
In 1926, she first received the stigmata, but refused to tell anyone out of fear. Over the next several days the wounds worsened, and while the accompanying visions of the last days of Christ left Therese in a state of divine ecstasy, she was also at death’s door. After last rites were given, she miraculously returned to a normal state and from then on, the stigmata would appear on Therese every week for two days. She was told in a vision to abstain from food and drink, and from 1926 to her death in 1962, Therese took no nourishment with the exception of the Holy Eucharist. The process for the beatification and canonization for Therese Neumann was officially opened in 2005.
Stigmatic Suffers All The Wounds of Christ at Once, Including a Crown of Thorns
Marie Rose Ferron is one of 30 stigmatics in existence that bore all the wounds of Christ at once. Deeply pious, her earliest visions were recorded at the age of six in which she was witness to Christ’s Crucifixion. “He was looking at me with sadness in His eyes,” she once said.
When she was in her teens, Rose was stricken with a mysterious paralysis that worsened over time until she was completely bedridden. She also suffered severe digestive problems which made it difficult to digest solid foods. In 1927, whip-like wounds appeared on her arms on a weekly basis.
Soon, Rose also suffered the “Five Holy Wounds” to her hands, feet, and side. She also had the outline of a crown of thorns upon her head. The stigmata never went away and Rose was in perpetual agony. It is said that due to her digestive problems, she only took liquids and sustained herself on the Holy Eucharist in the last years of her life.
Family friend Diane Marshall said, ““Seven years before Rose died, she cried out to Jesus and asked when He was going to take her home, and He said ‘in seven years.’ It was exactly seven years later when she died at age 33–the same age when Jesus died on the cross.”