Wounds, in emulation of and empathy with those suffered by Jesus during His crucifixion - wounds in the hands, feet, and side. St. Francis of Assisi is one example of a stigmatic; modern-day examples include the recently-beatified Italian priest Padre Pio, a senior-citizen Midwestern-US man named "Francis" (a very publicity-shy intercessor and evangelist), and the teenage, semi-comatose "victim soul" Audrey Santo in Worcester, MA - her family's house now hosts pilgrimages.

An intriguing movie that introduced me to the concept of the "gospel of the living jesus." I wasn't aware of its existence, due mostly to the fact that I've avoided most religious content in this world of ours up to this point. I know only what was imprinted in my mind as a child (which has been undoubtedly warped by my own interpretations), and what I've come to learn on my own in the last few years. Stigmata (the movie) has so many profound moments, so much shocking imagery, it made me think. I watched it with a friend, as well, she was frightened, though I don't understand why, perhaps that was her problem, she didn't understand.

Religion, faith, it's all so confusing.


I must say, this movie was so well-done that it brought a cold chill up my spine, thinking about the entire idea of Jesus.

My dad was a Baptist Preacher (just part-time, not the big church, big hair, big smile, big money type) for a while when I was young, and it really turned me off to the concept of the church and Christ and all of that. But there's a yearning in there; a deep pit somewhere in my gut that knows something is Right about that whole deal.

As Baptists, we weren't so much into the suffering of Christ as we were the fires of Hell if you didn't clean up your act, right now! My wife is an ex-Catholic, and I understand now that they look at the sufferings of Christ in a much different light than do non-Catholic Christians. I've never seen that portrayed in a better way than in this movie.

Who knows the Truth of all this? You don't. Nor would I even pretend to. However, you should be open-minded enough to allow that making fun of the sufferings of Jesus is probably a fairly inane act.

If he actually did die for my sins, I thank him and offer this writeup in his honor. I know it's not much, but it's all I can do right now.

It is very important to realize that stigmata has not been traditionally viewed as some kind of curse or punishment.

Consider the following: there is a man who loves you so well, he allows himself to be tortured for you. Beaten for you, whipped for you, humiliated for you so that you could find salvation. He must certainly hold you dear to suffer so for your sake. And, in return for his complete and utter love, in return for the grace he has offered you, you love him completely and utterly as well.

Now because you love him so utterly, and because he has suffered - is suffering? - so much for your sake, would you not want to suffer along with him so that you might perhaps take a little of his suffering upon yourself? And would it not be one of the greatest honors you could conceive that he thinks you righteous enough to suffer along with him?

I do not know if these people inflicted the stigmata on themselves - That is not for me to decide. But assuming stigmata is not mystical in nature, the Via Dolorosa has a long tradition. Through the centuries, a great number of people have seen suffering as a way to grow closer to God. If one is going to suffer for grace, what more fitting way is there than to suffer in the manner of Jesus?

This is, of course, all by Christian theology.

Stigmata is the plural of the word stigma, which means mark, or brand. However, it is most commonly used to refer to

"Bodily marks or pains resembling the wounds of the crucified Christ"1.
The phenomenon with which this wu shall be considered is that of the several well documented* cases of people who have experienced stigmata, but without any apparent physical cause. This is considered miraculous by the Catholic church, and many sufferers have been canonised.
*Those in recent times

The first recorded sufferer of these mystical stigmata was St. Francis of Assisi, during the 13th Century. There have been many cases since then, including in the recent past, and even the present.

Location of Stigmata

According to the Bible, Christ received several wounds before his death. The most significant of these were the crucifixion wounds. It is interesting to note, that while all our sources seem to point to the nails being driven between the bones of the forearm, almost all stigmatics seem to suffer on their palms. This could be seen as evidence that stigmata are caused by some psychosomatic pathway in the body of the sufferer, who probably believed that Jesus was nailed to the cross by his hands. The other crucifixion wounds that Jesus suffered from were those located on the feet, but these are less common among stigmatics.

There are three other kinds of wound that Jesus received prior to his death. The first of these is the marks of the whip with which he was beaten.

And Pilate, wishing to content the multitude, released unto them Barabbas, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified. 2
St. Catherine de' Ricci is one of the few recorded cases of such stigmatatics.

Stigmata which appear on the forehead are connected to the crown of thorns with which Jesus was mocked.

And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and arrayed him in a purple garment; and they came unto him, and said "Hail, King of the Jews!".3

According to the gospel of John there is one more wound with which stigmatics might be afflicted. This is the spear thrust used to see whether Jesus was truly dead.

But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: howbeit one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and straightway there came out blood and water.4
This is not mentioned in the other gospels, and may be a product of Johannine redaction, especially considering the Old Testament proof texts quoted soon after, which could have been mentioned to fortify the theme of Jesus as fulfillment of the Law. Nonetheless, this is the wound often referred to as Jesus "fifth wound", and is accepted by the Catholic church.

Physical Characteristics

As mentioned above, Stigmata can be either visible, or be simply an inexplicable pain. The characteristics of physical stigmata vary somewhat, and defy conventional science. Stigmata can appear, and then heal themselves very quickly, and without warning, but seem to occur more often on the days during which Jesus died, and then laid in the grave. Some stigmatics suffer from stigmata often, but in other cases they only occur once.

The most noticable physical characteristic of most stigmata is that they appear to run with blood. During this time, and often beforehand the sufferer will feel pain. Several scientific studies have been undertaken to investigate the fluid that comes forth from these wounds, and the conclusions have varied. In some cases, the fluid seems to be the blood of the sufferer, in other cases the blood appears foreign. In yet other cases the liquid has been found not be be blood at all.

The wounds always appear fresh, no matter what the duration, and in some cases may even seem to emit a pleasant odour. They appear to resemble their supposed cause in most cases, but may be very shallow, or somehow different in other cases. In fact it seems sensible to reaffirm that there are a common set of characteristics with stigmata, but specifics vary greatly.

Possible Explanations

There are three non-supernatural theories that may explain stigmata

Disease
Perhaps some disease, possibly combigned with the action of the mind is sufficient to cause wounds on the surface of the skin. Unfortunately, we must discount this theory, as stigmata do not react to treatment as normal wounds do, and the healing is remarkably rapid.

Self-Harm
It is possible that those appearing to suffer from Stigmata inflict the wounds upon themselves, either consciously or during their sleep. While this seems like a good explanation, it cannot stand up to the accounts of spontaneous wound generation and healing, and there is no evidence to back it up. Some apparent cases of mystical stigmata may be due self-inflicted injuries, but this may only apply to a minority of examples, who's mental stability is likely to be questionable.

Psychosomatic causes
The most convincing explanation for stigmata is one that postulates that the mind is somehow responsible for causing the stigmata. While not an expert on the subject, I think it is safe to say that while the mind may be capable of many remarkable feats, the creation, and sudden healing of severe wounds is beyond it, as we currently understand. With further study a greater understanding of such phenomena may be acquired, and perhaps this explanation will become sufficient.

For now, the nature and cause of mystical stigmata are mysterious to us, but we have not exhausted all roads of scientific enquiry, and it is still not possible to point to either a divine or mundane cause.

Some Notable Stigmatics


Sources:
1: Merriam-Webster Online
2: Mark 15v15 : The Bible (Revised Standard Version)
3 John 19v2-3 : The Bible
4 John 19v32-33: The Bible
http://saints.catholic.org/saints/stigmata.shtml
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14294b.htm
Notes from a Religious Studies class

Stig"ma*ta (?), n.;

pl. of Stigma.

 

© Webster 1913.

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