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,
‘‘. . . 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.