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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. 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.[1]

Description

File:Receiving stigmata.jpg

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 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. 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.

Individuals who have obtained the stigmata are many times described as ecstatics. At the time of receiving the stigmata they are overwhelmed with emotions. In more recent times an individual’s stigmata is reported to heal within a few hours of its reception. Blood, which is believed to be a combination of Christ’s blood and the stigmatic’s, pours from the individual’s wounds for unspecified amounts of time and suddenly dries up, and the wound is healed. Some individuals with stigmata in the past sought medical attention, but neither remedies nor medical treatment of any other sort could cure their wounds. Stigmatics, such as Saint Francis were affected by the stigmata for an extended period of time; however, the wounds never rotted or possessed a rank odor[2].

No case of stigmata is known to have occurred before the thirteenth century, when the depiction of the crucified Jesus in Western Christiandom emphasized his humanity.[3]

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.

St. Francis the Stigmatic

St. Francis of Assisi is the first recorded stigmatic in Christian history. [4] In 1224, two years before his death, he embarked on a journey to Mt. La Verna for a forty day fast. One morning near the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, a six winged angel appeared to Francis while he prayed. As the angel approached, Francis could see that the angel was crucified. He was humbled by the sight, and his heart was filled with elation joined by pain and suffering. When the angel departed, Francis was left with wounds in his hands, feet, and side as if caused by the same lance that pierced Christ’s side. The image of nails immediately appeared in his hands and feet, and the wound in his side often seeped blood. [5]

St. Francis' first biographer, Thomas of Celano, reports the event as follows in his 1230 First Life of St. Francis:

"When the blessed servant of God saw these things he was filled with wonder, but he did not know what the vision meant. He rejoiced greatly in the benign and gracious expression with which he saw himself regarded by the seraph, whose beauty was indescribable; yet he was alarmed by the fact that the seraph was affixed to the cross and was suffering terribly. Thus Francis rose, one might say, sad and happy, joy and grief alternating in him. He wondered anxiously what this vision could mean, and his soul was uneasy as it searched for understanding. And as his understanding sought in vain for an explanation and his heart was filled with perplexity at the great novelty of this vision, the marks of nails began to appear in his hands and feet, just as he had seen them slightly earlier in the crucified man above him.

His hands and feet seemed to be pierced by nails, with the heads of the nails appearing in the palms of his hands and on the upper sides of his feet, the points appearing on the other side. The marks were round on the palm of each hand but elongated on the other side, and small pieces of flesh jutting out from the rest took on the appearance of the nail-ends, bent and driven back. In the same way the marks of nails were impressed on his feet and projected beyond the rest of the flesh. Moreover, his right side had a large wound as if it had been pierced with a spear, and it often bled so that his tunic and trousers were soaked with his sacred blood." [6]

Scientific research

Modern research has postulated stigmata are of hysterical origin,[7] or linked to dissociative identity disorders,[8] especially the link between dietary constriction by self-starvation, dissociative mental states and self-mutilation, in the context of a religious belief.[9] 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.[10][11][12]. A psychoanalytic study of stigmatatic Thérèse Neumann has suggested that her stigmata resulted from post-traumatic stress symptoms expressed in unconscious self-mutilation through abnormal autosuggestibility.[13]

In his Stigmata: A Medieval Phenomenon in a Modern Age, Edward 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. 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. Harrison also noted that the male to female 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 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.[14]

From the records of St. Francis’ physical ailments and symptoms, Dr. Edward Hartung concluded in 1935 that he knew what health problems plagued the holy man. Hartung believed that he had an eye ailment known as trachoma, but also had quartan malaria. Quartan malaria causes the liver, spleen, and stomach to be infected, causing the victim intense pain. One complication of quartan malaria occasionally seen around Francis’ time period is known as purpura. Purpura is a purple hemorrhage of blood into the skin. Purpuras usually occur symmetrically, which means each hand and foot would have been affected equally. If this were the case of St. Francis, he would have been afflicted by ecchymoses, an exceedingly large purpura. The purple spots of blood may have been punctured while in the wilderness and therefore appear as an open wound like that of Christ.[15]

Non-Christian stigmata

Bodily stigmata has been reported in a number of religious traditions.

  • Among the Waraw of the Orinoco Delta, a contemplator of tutelary spirits may mystically induce the development of "openings in the palms of his hands."[16] That these tutelary spirits are presented by the "itiriti snake" makes for a close analogue with the śrap serpent who endowed Francis of Assisi with his stigmata.
  • Buddhist "stigmata"[17][18]are regularly indicated in Buddhist art.

Famous stigmatics

References

  1. Poulain, A. (1912). Mystical Stigmata. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved July 1, 2008 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14294b.htm
  2. http://www.crystalinks.com/stigmata.html
  3. "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Mystical Stigmata". http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14294b.htm. Retrieved 2008-07-02. 
  4. http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1163/whats-the-deal-with-stigmata
  5. http://www.franciscanfriarstor.com/archive/stfrancis/stf_stigmata_of_st_francis.htm
  6. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/stfran-lives.html
  7. Thurston, Herbert (2007-02-01). The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism. Roman Catholic Books. ISBN 1929291914, 9781929291915. 
  8. Wilson, Ian (1991-03-28). The bleeding mind. Paladin. ISBN 0586090142, 9780586090145. 
  9. Daniel Fessler (2002). "Starvation, serotonin, and symbolism. A psychobiocultural perspective on stigmata". Mind and Society: Cognitive Studies in Economics and Social Sciences. Mind and Society: Cognitive Studies in Economics and Social Sciences 3 (2): 81-96. http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/anthro/faculty/fessler/pubs/FesslerStigmata.pdf. Retrieved 2009-09-12. 
  10. Yaryura-Tobias, Jose A.; Fugen A. Neziroglu, Steven Kaplan (1995). "Self-mutilation, anorexia, and dysmenorrhea in obsessive compulsive disorder". International Journal of Eating Disorders 17 (1): 33-38. 
  11. Curtin, A. P. (1946). "Imprisonment under the Japanese". BMJ 2 (4476): 585-586. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.4476.585. ISSN 0959-8138. http://www.bmj.com/cgi/reprint/2/4476/585. Retrieved 2009-09-12. 
  12. The biology of human starvation. University of Minnesota Press. 1950. 
  13. Albright, M. (2002). "The Stigmata: The Psychological and Ethical Message of the Posttraumatic Sufferer". Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought 25 (3): 329–358. 
  14. Harrison, Ted (1994-10). Stigmata: A Medieval Phenomenon in a Modern Age. St Martins Press. ISBN 0312113722. 
  15. "Medicine: St. Francis' Stigmata". Time. 1935-03-11. ISSN 0040-718X. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,883261,00.html. Retrieved 2009-09-14. 
  16. Johannes Wilbert : Warao Basketry. OCCASIONAL PAPERS OF THE MUSEUM OF CULTURAL HISTORY, University of California at Los Angeles, No. 3, 1975. pp. 5-6
  17. Keith Taylor & John Whitmore : Essays into Vietnamese Pasts. Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, 1985. p. 278
  18. cited in Ing-Britt Trankell & Laura Summers : Facets of Power and Its Limitations. Department of Cultural Anthropology, Uppsala University, 1998. p. 24

See also

  • Zlatko Sudac - known for his stigmata which he bears on his forehead, wrists, feet and side.

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