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.
Stewart, W(ilber) C(larence) Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
1494
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.
Sources
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.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Stigmata
1495
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 & Nicolson,
1988.