Hands with stigmata, depicted on a Franciscan church in Lienz, Austria

Mystery of Stigmata

By Anand Balaji

IT IS BELIEVED THAT in the year 1224 St. Francis of Assisi was praying on the Holy Cross Day when he saw a vision of a crucified angel. The saint is said to have felt great sorrow at the sight, and almost immediately developed the very same wounds on his person. Over the centuries since that event occurred, people from many parts of the world are believed to have experienced this mysterious condition. The phenomenon is known as ‘stigmata’ (stigma in singular).

Cause and effect

There are two main theories behind what causes stigmata. The first and most widely accepted thought is that the people afflicted by this condition are manifesting the existence of divinity. The scientific theory though, provides a more temporal answer — that the victim is actually causing the wounds on themselves by auto-suggestion; meaning thoughts channeled through the unconscious mind.

Obviously, this explanation is inconclusive because we are not even certain how the stigmata or ‘Wounds of the Passion’ looked on Christ’s body. But there is evidence that suggests stigmata never appeared the same in those who had them.

Two forms

Stigmata are believed to exist in two forms: visible and invisible. Invisible wounds are those covered by unexplained forces for the “inner comfort” of the sufferer; and visible wounds, that appear on the sides, palms, feet and head. A peculiar and mystifying aspect of stigmata is that the condition can appear and disappear in the space of a few hours.

Startlingly, intense bleeding accompanies visible stigmata and studies have revealed that the period before they appear is often characterized by depression and weakness. Some stigmatics allegedly reported feeling whips across their backs, reminiscent of the tortured Jesus.

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Cases in history

The first recorded case of a stigmatic was that of Stephen Langton of Canterbury, England in 1222. Many stigmatics have been women such as, Therese Neumann (b 1898) who was known to suffer from many illnesses during her childhood that appeared to cure themselves on certain religious days.


Statue of Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, from the exterior of Canterbury Cathedral

As she grew older, wounds seemingly caused by a crown of thorns revealed itself on her brow. On each Friday, Neumann would lose a lot of blood because of this. Strangely, her health was never affected in any manner and by the following Sunday she would be cured, rather miraculously.


On 17 May 1925 Therese of Lisieux was fully canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church.

Closer to our times the most famous case is that of Padre Pio (1887-1968), a Capuchin monk from Giovanni Rotondo, Italy. After praying on September 15, 1915 the Padre felt excruciating pain in his hands and there appeared five stigmata wounds.


Padre Pio showing the stigmata

For the rest of his life, Padre Pio lived in agony as the wounds failed to heal. But the monk wasn’t complaining because he gained healing powers and the ability to appear in multiple locations at once!

Science holds the key?

 Stigmata are yet another enigma of science. One needs to keep in mind that physiological science isn’t so advanced to admit a satisfactory solution. Maybe sometime in the distant future medical sciences will lift the veil off this phenomenon. Until then, it will remain one of the most awe-inspiring and bewildering mysteries known to humankind.


Independent Researcher.

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