The an initial case of stigmata—the appearance of marks or yes, really wounds favor those Christ received throughout the Crucifixion—was taped in 1224


Padre Pio (1887-1968), an Italian priest and stigmatic, to be elevated to sainthood in 2002 together St. Pio the Pietrelcino. In the 1940s the heard the confession that the future Pope man Paul II and–John Paul recorded–told him he would someday ascend come "the highest article in the Church though more confirmation is needed." The point out of the stigmata can be seen on Pio"s hands. Brian Wolly

On September 14, 1224, a Saturday, Francis of Assisi—noted ascetic and also holy man, future saint—was preparing to get in the second month that a retreat through a couple of close companions on Monte La Verna, overlooking the flow Arno in Tuscany. Francis had actually spent the previous couple of weeks in lengthy contemplation that the enduring Jesus Christ top top the cross, and he might well have been weak indigenous protracted fasting. Together he knelt come pray in the first light the dawn (notes the Fioretti—the ‘Little flower of St Francis that Assisi,’ a repertoire of legends and stories about the saint),

he started to contemplate the passion of Christ… and his fervor thrived so solid within him that he came to be wholly transformed into Jesus with love and compassion…. While he was therefore inflamed, he saw a seraph with 6 shining, fiery wings descend indigenous heaven. This seraph attracted near to St Francis in swift flight, so that he can see him clearly and acknowledge that he had actually the kind of a male crucified… after ~ a long period of secret converse, this secret vision faded, leaving… in his body a exorbitant image and imprint of the passion of Christ. For in the hands and feet the Saint Francis forthwith began to appear the point out of the nails in the exact same manner as he had seen castle in the human body of Jesus crucified.

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In all, Francis discovered that that bore 5 marks: 2 on his palms and two top top his feet, wherein the pond that addressed Christ come the cross were traditionally thought to have been hammered home, and also the fifth on his side, wherein the scriptures says Jesus had actually received a spear thrust native a roman inn centurion.

Thus to be the very first case of stigmata—the illustration of marks or yes, really wounds paralleling those Christ received during Crucifixion—described. Later on stigmatics (and there have been several hundred of them) have exhibited similar marks, though some bear only one or 2 wounds, if others also display scratches on their foreheads, where Christ would have actually been hurt by his crown the thorns. V the centuries, stigmata has come to be one that the best-documented, and most controversial, the mystical phenomena. The comprehensive record renders it possible to compare instances that occurred centuries apart.

Why, though, to begin with, walk stigmata materialize in 13th-century Italy? component of the answer appears to lie in the theological patterns of the time. The Catholic Church of St. Francis’s job had started to ar much better stress ~ above the humanity of Christ, and would soon introduce a brand-new feast day, Corpus Christi, right into the calendar to encourage contemplation the his physics sufferings. Religious painters responded by showing the crucifixion clearly for the very first time, showing a Jesus who was plainly in agony from wounds that dripped blood. Indeed, the contemporary obsession v the point out of crucifixion may ideal be prove by an incident that developed in Oxford, England, two years before St. Francis’s vision: a young guy was brought prior to the Archbishop the Canterbury and charged v the heresy of heralding he was the son of God. In court it was uncovered that his body bore the five wounds; but the record has no tip that these to be spontaneously generated, and also it appears he may actually have permitted himself to it is in crucified, either due to the fact that he genuinely thought he to be Christ, or due to the fact that he want others to believe he was.

Therese Neumann, the controversial German stigmatic, asserted to have actually lived for years ~ above nothing an ext than Communion wafers and wine. Photo: Bundesarchiv via Wikicommons

It is i can not qualify news of this strange situation ever got to Francis in Assisi. On the various other hand, it is indisputable that the saint’s reputation ensured the the story of his stigmatization soon came to be known transparent Europe, and also before long other instances of stigmata began to appear. At the very least ten much more were videotaped in the 13th century, and also a recent estimate by the former BBC spiritual correspondent Ted Harrison sets the complete number reported due to the fact that 1224 at simply over 400. These encompass such noteworthy cases as the of Johann Jetzer, a Swiss farmer who presented the stigmata in 1507, and also Therese Neumann, a controversial German stigmatic on who the marks showed up on Fridays native 1926 till her fatality in 1962 (though never ever convincingly in the existence of scientific observers). Padre Pio, a Capuchin monk that is probably the ideal known of all stigmatics, is likewise supposed to have experienced a variety of other strange phenomena and to have effected many miraculous healings. (Stigmatics room often linked with other miraculous events.) Pio was canonized by Pope john Paul II in 2002.

Until the twenty century, reports that stigmata to be confined to Catholic Europe, yet the many recent counting of modern-day cases, made about a te ago, included around 25 situations scattered about the world, including one in Korea and one in Japan. This in itself is a remarkable development, however there has likewise been a dramatic change in the ratio of male to mrs stigmatics. Overall, the vast bulk have constantly been women: 353, compared to simply 54 men, a ratio of practically seven come one. Yet according come Harrison’s analysis, that ratio has changed dramatically in the last half-century. Among the 44 cases reported since 1946, it is 2.4:1, and among living stigmatics it is a just 1.5:1. Harrison suggests that this may be described “by the alters in the balance of authority between men and women, both in the church and also society,” and also that in ahead centuries females may have manifested stigmata to draw attention to themselves in a society dominated by men and in a church the excluded them native the priesthood. Citing stigmatics that effected local religious revivals or became the leader of messianic sects, Harrison notes “the function stigmata plays in approving to individuals and congregations a straight spiritual authority.”

St Francis obtain the stigmata. Native a silver paper plaque ~ above a 13th- century reliquary. Image: Wikicommons.

The document shows various other patterns together well. Prior to Padre Pio, no priest had received the stigmata; due to the fact that then, a number have. Cases appear in clusters: a solitary case emerged in the Iberian peninsula between the 13th and also 15th centuries, however 54 to be recorded in between 1600 and 1799—and there have actually been only seven since. And the place of the wounds themselves has started to readjust as medical knowledge has advanced. Traditionally, 2 of the 5 wounds have showed up on the palms, where countless icons have shown the nails the were supposed to have actually been hammered into Christ’s hands throughout crucifixion. It has due to the fact that been established that pond positioned in this means cannot assistance the load of a body, and that the Romans crucified their victims by control a nail into the eight just above the wrist. In at least two recent cases, the skeptic Joe Nickell notes, the stigmatic has bled from wounds there.

What all this suggests—even to many Catholic writers on the subject—is, first, the this phenomenon is culturally based. There seem to it is in no parallels in any type of of the significant non-Christian religions, and, with the exception of the strange 20th-century Anglican or Baptist stigmatic, sufferers room invariably members that the roman Catholic church. Evidence for the fact of stigmata, moreover, is sketchy at best; father Herbert Thurston, the great Jesuit authority on the physics phenomena the mysticism, completed that there had actually been no completely believable case because that the St. Francis himself. Today, the Catholic church itself takes a mindful view of the phenomenon, accepting the miracles can indeed take place while decreasing to formally acknowledge even St. Francis’s stigmata as miraculous.

How, then to define this phenomenon? Fraud definitely figures in part cases. Magdalena de la Cruz, the famous Spanish stigmatic of the 16th century whose constant self-mortification and spectacular wounds made she a favorite at court, at some point confessed to having actually inflicted her own injuries. Similarly, Johann Jetzer, who declared to have actually experienced not just recurrent poltergeist phenomena but likewise a collection of religious visions, confessed in 1507 the his stigmata were fake. Four friars indigenous his monastery were subsequently melted at the stake, and Jetzer himself escaped death only after his mommy smuggled that a set of women’s clothes, in which he bluffed his method out the his death cell.

Aside from cases of bald fraud, which may well kind the majority of every cases, the illustration of stigmata shows up to it is in an essentially psychological condition whose manifestations are determined by the social expectations the the stigmatics themselves. A big number that sufferers seem come have displayed abundant proof of low self-esteem, wellness problems, or a propensity toward self-mutilation—a potent mix when linked with exposure to the pervasive iconography of century of Christian tradition. It has actually been shown beyond a reasonable doubt that many have inflicted the 5 wounds top top themselves, periodically unconsciously, possibly while in an transformed state of consciousness lugged on by considerable fasting or intensive prayer.

An example: Teresa Musco, a stigmatic native Naples, endured a life time of poor health and also a full of much more than 100 operations in the years causing the early death she had actually predicted for herself. (She passed away in 1976 in ~ the period of 33—the same period as Christ.) if she lived, Teresa habitually described herself as “a dungheap,” and her diary frequently contained the exhortation, “Lord, usage me together your clean rag!” A contemporary, Therese Neumann, suffered blindness and also convulsions together a result of head injuries, and also claimed the she had actually lived for an ext than three years on nothing more than the bread and wine she received everyday at Communion. Thurston disputed her situation under the heading “Hysteria and dual personality.” The contemporary English stigmatic mrs Hunt started to display the indicators of the enthusiasm in 1985 after experiencing a series of miscarriages, and ceased to do so after ~ she had a hysterectomy in 1987.

In at least some of these cases, investigators such as Harrison have argued, substantial evidence suggests the initial wounds can recur spontaneously and apparently psychosomatically, usually on far-ranging dates. Throughout the 1990s, for example, one Italian woman named Domenica Lo Bianco exhibited the stigmata on great Friday. She fame spread, and Harrison notes the an Italian psychotherapist, Dr Marco Margnelli, has reported videoing Lo Bianco in a laboratory together she relived one event of stigmata in a “trance state.” according to Margnelli, marks appeared spontaneously ~ above his subject’s arm as she was taped and also outright fraud can be rule out together an explanation.

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If that’s true, then Harrison might be exactly in arguing some instances of stigmata may be attributable come psychosomatic causes—in other words, come the power of suggestion. The alternative, proposed by unbelievable such as Joe Nickell, is that all well-known cases, including St. Francis’s own, are pious–or less than pious–frauds. “Experimental attempts to duplicate the phenomenon,” Nickell writes, “have been at some point unsuccessful i feel the hoaxing–the proven explanation in many cases–provides the most credible overall suggestion.” he contends that also men such together St. Francis, unwilling to “perpetrate deception because that crass motives,” might agree to “a pious hoax—one that would, to Francis’s mind, promote the instance of Christ to others.”

Nearly eight century on from the day on Monte La Verna, the jury continues to be out; its final verdict ultimately depends on a good judgement of human being nature. Fraud or an ext than fraud? Hardened skeptics feel certain that they know the answer, but, for the much more religiously inclined, even a near look at the record has not yet completely deprived this phenomenon of its mystery.


Ted Harrison. Stigmata: A Medieval secret in a modern-day Age. New York: Penguin Books, 1999; Joe Nickell. Lo0oking for a Miracle: Weeping Icons, Relics, Stigmata, Visions and also Healing Cures. Amhurst : Prometheus Books, 1998; Herbert Thurston. The physical Phenomena that Mysticism. London: Burnes Oates, 1952; Ian Wilson. The Bleeding Mind: one Investigation into the mysterious Phenomenon of Stigmata. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988