Stigmata in Christianity, are the appearance of bodily wounds, scars and pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ, such as the hands, wrists and feet. An individual bearing the wounds of stigmata is a stigmatist or a stigmatic.
In Galatians 6:17, Saint Paul says:
Τοῦ λοιποῦ κόπους μοι μηδεὶς παρεχέτω· ἐγὼ γὰρ τὰ στίγματα τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἐν τῷ σώματί μου βαστάζω.
From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.
A stígma (στίγμα) is a mark on the skin.
Stigmata are primarily associated with Roman Catholicism. Many reported stigmatics are members of Catholic religious orders. St. Francis of Assisi was the first recorded stigmatic. For over fifty years, St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin reported stigmata which were studied by several 20th-century physicians. Stigmata are notably foreign to the Eastern Orthodox Church, which professes no official view on the matter; the first and only stigmatics have been Catholics who lived after the Great Schism of 1054.
A high percentage (perhaps over 80%) of all stigmatics are women. In his book Stigmata: A Medieval Phenomenon in a Modern Age, Ted Harrison suggests that there is no single mechanism whereby the marks of stigmata were produced. What is important is that the marks are recognized by others as of religious significance. Most cases of stigmata have been debunked as trickery. Some cases have also included reporting’s of a mysterious chalice in visions being given to stigmatics to drink from or the feeling of a sharp sword being driven into one’s chest.
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 photographed. Other reported forms include tears of blood or sweating blood, and wounds to the back as from scourging.
Many stigmata show recurring bleeding that stops and then starts, at times after receiving Holy Communion; a significant proportion of stigmatics have shown a strong desire to receive Holy Communion frequently.
Some stigmatics claim to feel the pain of wounds with no external marks; these are referred to as “invisible stigmata”. Some stigmatics’ wounds do not appear to clot, and seem to stay fresh and uninfected. The blood from the wounds is said, in some cases, to have a pleasant, perfumed odor, known as the Odour of Sanctity.
Individuals who have obtained the stigmata are many times described as ecstatics, overwhelmed with emotions upon receiving the stigmata. No case of stigmata is known to have occurred before the thirteenth century.
Many stigmatics have been exposed for using trickery. Magdalena de la Cruz for example confessed before she died that her stigmata was deliberate deception.
Early neurologist Désiré-Magloire Bourneville published works which stated that saints claiming 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 dissociative identity disorder.
There is a link between dietary constriction by self-starvation, dissociative mental states and self-mutilation, in the context of a religious belief. Anorexia nervosa cases often display self-mutilation similar to stigmata as part of a ritualistic, obsessive–compulsive disorder. A relationship between starvation and self-mutilation has been reported amongst prisoners of war and during famines.
The psychologist Leonard Zusne in his book Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking (1989) has written:
Cases of stigmatism fall into two categories: self-inflicted wounds, which may be either cases of fraud or of unconscious self-infliction, and those that are caused by emotional states… Self-induced (through autosuggestion) itching and subsequent scratching of which the individual is unaware is likely to occur in suggestible persons if the stimulus is a mental or actual picture of the Crucifixion used during meditation and if the main motive is to receive the stigmata. The motive behind that may be unconscious conflict and a desire to escape from an intolerable situation into invalidism where one’s needs are taken care of. It then becomes a case of hysterical conversion reaction. Many cases of stigmatism can be explained as fraud or unconsciously self-inflicted wounds.
In his Stigmata: A Medieval Phenomenon in a Modern Age, Ted Harrison suggests that there is no single mechanism whereby the marks of stigmata were produced. Harrison found no evidence from a study of contemporary cases that the marks were supernatural in origin. He concluded, however, that marks of natural origin need not be hoaxes. Some stigmatics marked themselves in attempt to suffer with Christ as a form of piety. Others marked themselves accidentally and their marks were noted as stigmata by witnesses. Often marks of human origin produced profound and genuine religious responses.
Harrison also noted the male-to-female ratio of stigmatics, which for many centuries had been of the order of 7 to 1, had changed since the late 1800s to a ratio of 5 to 4. Appearance of stigmata frequently coincided with times when issues of authority loomed large in the Church. What was significant about stigmatics was not that they were predominantly men, but that they were non-ordained. Having stigmata gave them direct access to the body of Christ without requiring the permission of the Church through the Eucharist. Only in the last century have priests been stigmatized.
One suggestion is that painful bruising syndrome may explain rare cases of non self-induced stigmata.
Skeptical investigator Joe Nickell, who investigated recent cases of stigmata such as Katya Rivas, commented that they are indistinguishable from hoaxing. In 2002, a psychoanalytic study of stigmatic Therese Neumann suggested her stigmata resulted from post-traumatic stress symptoms expressed in unconscious self-mutilation through abnormal autosuggestibility.
- Francis of Assisi
- Marguerite Bays
- Maria Esperanza de Bianchini
- Benedetta Carlini
- Rita of Cascia
- Mariam Thresia Chiramel
- Anne Catherine Emmerich
- Natuzza Evolo
- Marie Rose Ferron
- Gemma Galgani
- Veronica Giuliani
- John of God
- Teresa Helena Higginson
- Marie of the Incarnation
- Marie Julie Jahenny
- Mariam Baouardy
- Louise Lateau
- Therese Neumann
- Marcelline Pauper
- Padre Pio
- Lucy Brocadelli
- Catherine of Ricci
- Marthe Robin
- Zlatko Sudac
- Catherine of Siena
- Rhoda Wise
- Luisa Piccarreta