From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus – St. Paul the Apostle, Galatians 6:17.
Many Biblical scholars point to this passage as a sign that says St. Paul was the first stigmatic. However, in Catholic tradition that person is the famous St. Francis of Assisi, who lived about 1200 years after Christ.
But what is the stigmata? For the uninitiated, the stigmata is a group of wounds (or sometimes even rashes) which occur in the parts of the body in which Jesus Christ was also wounded in his crucifixion. Typically, the wounds appear in the hands and feet which were pierced by the nails, the side of the body in which Jesus suffered a spear thrust, and in the hairline which was wounded by the crown of thorns.
It has been the subject of quite a few movies and TV shows, and it may even be somewhat horrifying. But to devout Roman Catholics, it is a miraculous blessing bestowed upon God on His chosen followers.
Here are some facts about the stigmata:
– The first acknowledged stigmatic is Francis of Assisi, who was a religious brother and not a priest. Christ appeared to him as an angel, and the encounter left him with marks on his hands and feet, along with a bloody wound on his right side.
– The most famous stigmatic of modern times is Padre Pio who lived until 1968 and was canonized (made a saint) in 2002. It has been alleged that he used carbolic acid to cause the wounds, but this allegation was already disproved more than 90 years ago. Carbolic acid caused necrosis and rotting of the flesh, but these were not observed in the wounds on Padre Pio.
– Padre Pio suffered his wounds for more than 50 years. He also exhibited extreme body heat, and his doctor once took his temperature on such an occasion and found the thermometer stuck at the highest reading (120 degrees).
– Among the 400 or so stigmatics, only 54 were men. In contrast, women account for 353 cases of stigmata.
– Many of the people who bore the stigmata also died by the age of 33, which was the same age Jesus died.
– There are a few cases of stigmata outside the Catholic Church. Elsie Nilsson Gjessing was a member of the Central Lutheran Church in Minnesota, and she started getting the wounds while still a child in Sweden. She also experienced the extreme body heat that Padre Pio did. Her wounds bled from Holy Thursday night until 3 P.M. on Good Friday.
– Dorothy Kerin in the UK was the first Anglican stigmatic. Many become stigmatics after a miraculous healing, and this happened to Dorothy. Her doctors believed she was dying in her bed, and she declared herself healed after reporting a vision of an Angel. Three years later, she received the first wounds on her hands. On the next day, she had the wound on her right side, and finally on the third day she had the wounds on her feet.
The Stigmata have been studied by numerous physicians at close range. In all the authentic cases, no scientific explanation has ever been found. To this day, the Catholic Church considers the stigmata a sign of God’s blessing. It is a sign of union with the Lord Jesus.