Is Stigmata Real?


Quick Answer

The Roman Catholic Church recognizes 321 cases of stigmata. Discrepancies in the locations of the wounds indicate that they may be caused by self-induced psychological fervor instead of a higher power.

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Stigmata refers to the spontaneous appearance of Christ's five crucifixion wounds on the body. Someone with stigmata can have any number of these. The wounds appear on the hands, back, face, feet and sides. Stigmata occurs most frequently when the calendar approaches Roman Catholic holidays, but during the 20th century, the Church saw cases start appearing all over the world, including Asia.

Critics of stigmata have pointed out that the wounds do not correspond exactly to Christ's crucifixion, particularly wounds that appear in the palms of the hands; Christ was most likely impaled through the wrists. The discrepancy of the location suggests that stigmata may have a psychological basis rather than a mystical cause.

Of the 321 stigmata cases, 62 have been sainted. Some became messianic figures while others formed and led religious sects. Religious scholars speculate that the spiritual significance granted to stigmatics explains why women are more likely to manifest stigmata, since they have historically been denied priesthood. The shifting gender ratio of stigmatics as women gain more political and religious power in society supports this theory.

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