What are Stigmata?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Sara Z. Potter
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2019
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Stigmata are manifestations on a living person of the five Holy Wounds suffered by Jesus Christ during the crucifixion. A case of stigmata may involve anywhere from one to all five of the wounds, or other injuries associated with the crucifixion, and they may manifest as physical wounds, marks, or simply pain. The word stigmata is Latin for "marks" and is drawn from St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians.

Stigmata are often associated with the Catholic Church, where they were historically considered signs of sainthood. Many reported cases of stigmata affected Catholics, usually women. Stigmata cases are sometimes an isolated incident and sometimes recur over the life of the stigmatic. The first and most famous case of stigmata struck St. Francis of Assisi in 1224, and many cases appeared throughout the Middle Ages and into the modern day, including a number of saints. Interestingly, many cases of stigmata have recently been reported among non-Catholics and even the non-religious.


The five Holy Wounds of Jesus Christ are nail wounds in the hands and feet and a pierced side. Stigmata may also involve wounds reminiscent of those from the Crown of Thorns or from the beating that Jesus endured. Besides spontaneously appearing, stigmata may have other mystical qualities, such as a failure to clot or a sweet, floral scent. Stigmata cases are not consistent: nail wounds have been known to appear in the hands or the wrists, and either the right or left side of a stigmatic may show the piercing wound.

Though the phenomenon of stigmata is well documented, there is debate about what causes it. At least some cases are certainly self-inflicted, and a few stigmatics have confessed to faking their condition. Stigmata that are not faked may be caused by a psychosomatic condition, in which the affected person identifies with Christ and the crucifixion so deeply that he or she develops sympathetic wounds. To put this last idea in a less religious way, stigmatics may think their wounds into existence through desire or unconsciously through the power of suggestion.


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Post 2

I wonder if the person feels any pain?

Post 1

I would imagine that the church would take a long and hard look at these cases before accepting the wounds to be real and not a hoax.

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