See R. Biot, The Enigma of the Stigmata (tr. 1962).
In Christian mysticism, bodily marks, scars, or pains suffered in places corresponding to those of the crucified Jesus—on the hands and feet, near the heart, and sometimes on the head (from the crown of thorns) or shoulders and back (from carrying the cross and being whipped). They are often presumed to accompany religious ecstasy and are taken as signs of holiness. The first to experience stigmata was St. Francis of Assisi (1224). Of the more than 330 persons identified with stigmata since the 14th century, more than 60 were canonized or beatified by the Roman Catholic church (see canonization).
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Stigmata are bodily marks, sores, or sensations of pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus. The term originates from the line at the end of Saint Paul's Letter to the Galatians where he says, "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus," stigmata is the plural of the Greek word stigma meaning a mark or brand such as might have been used for identification of an animal or slave. An individual bearing stigmata is referred to as a stigmatic.
The causes of stigmata may vary from case to case, but are invariably either self-inflicted wounds, or are a purely psychosomatic response. Stigmata are primarily associated with the Roman Catholic faith. Many reported stigmatics are members of Catholic religious orders. The majority of reported stigmatics are female.
Reported cases of stigmata take various forms. Many show some or all of the five Holy Wounds that were, according to the Bible, inflicted on Jesus during his crucifixion: wounds in the hands 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. Other reported forms include tears of blood or sweating blood, wounds to the back as from scourging, or wounds to the shoulder as from bearing the cross. In addition, lashes on the back can be witnessed.
Some stigmatics claim to feel the pain of wounds with no external marks; these are referred to as invisible stigmata. In other claims, stigmata are accompanied by extreme pain. Some stigmatics' wounds do not appear to clot, and 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. Refer to the case of Mother Theresa Neumann.
Cases of stigmata have been reported at different ages for different stigmatics. Some have manifested stigmata continually after the first appearance; others have shown periodic stigmata that recur at certain times of the day or on certain days, especially holy ones, throughout the year.
Some signs of stigmata are usually bleeding or pains coming from the spots where Jesus Christ was supposedly nailed to the cross by (eg. wrists,ankles) People in high authorities of the church experience it more often than lesser religious people,although some common people have experienced stigmata.
The first well-documented case and the first to be accepted by Church authorities as authentic, was that of Saint Francis of Assisi (1182–1226), who first experienced stigmata in La Verna, Italy, in 1224 .
In the century after the death of St. Francis, more than twenty additional cases of stigmata were reported. Stigmata have continued to be reported since, with over three hundred cases by the end of the 19th century . In the 20th century, the number of cases increased dramatically; over 500 cases have now been recorded. In modern times, increasing numbers of ordinary people as opposed to the usual mystics or members of religious orders, have began to report stigmata. Cases have also been reported among non-Catholic Christians . The first written record of a woman to have received stigmata is in the Medieval Codex Iuliacensis, ca. 1320-1350, reporting the stigmata of Blessed Christina von Stommeln (d. 1312), whose relics rest in the Propsteikirche in Jülich, near Aachen . It is claimed that one can still see marks from the crown of thorns on Bl. Christina's skull, which is publicly displayed annually during the octave beginning every 6 November in Jülich.
In his paper Hospitality and Pain, Christian theologian Ivan Illich states: "Compassion with Christ... is faith so strong and so deeply incarnate that it leads to the individual embodiment of the contemplated pain." His thesis is that stigmata result from exceptional poignancy of religious faith and desire to associate oneself with the suffering Messiah.
In 1998, Edward Harrison suggested that there was no single mechanism whereby the marks of stigmata were produced. He found no evidence from a study of contemporary cases that the marks were supernatural in origin. However marks of natural origin need not be hoaxes, he concluded. 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. Dr Harrison also noted that the female to male ratio of stigmatics which for many centuries had been of the order of 7 to 1, had changed over the last 100 years to a ratio of 5:4. Appearance of stigmata frequently coincided with times when issue of authority loomed large in the church. What was significant was that early stigmatics were not predominatly women, 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 stigmatised. There is currently a cluster of cases in the United States.
Similar phenomena in other traditions: Caitanya Mahaprabhu experienced blood oozing from his body during intense emotional states (Sanskrit bhāva.)