Stigmata is one of the strangest phenomenons in the Catholic Church in the last few centuries.
If you don’t already know, stigmata is a supernatural phenomenon in which the wounds of Christ from his passion and death miraculously appear on a person’s body. Some saints have also suffered what is called invisible stigmata, in which they feel the sufferings of Christ but without the bodily marks.
What should Catholics make of this?
Here are 6 things you may not have known about this incredible phenomenon:
1) The first stigmata dates back to the 13th century
There are no known accounts of stigmata prior to St. Francis of Assisi receiving it in the 13th century. You can read the amazing account of his stigmata from his first biography here.
For most of Church history, no one had heard of stigmata, and now it’s something many people claim to experience, which brings us to our next point…
2) Hundreds of people have claimed stigmata since then
Even though there are no known cases of stigmata prior to St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century, since then there have been hundreds of people who have claimed to have miraculously received stigmata.
It’s hard to understand why God may start acting in a new way, and some people take this fact as an argument against the supernatural character of at least most stigmata (seeing most as copycats rather than miracles).
3) At least one stigmatist admitted to faking it
And yes, at least one significant stigmatist publicly admitted to faking it. Magdalena de la Cruz was a Franciscan nun in Spain in the 16th century who for years claimed to have miraculously received stigmata. She was famous and widely considered to a be living saint, though St. Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits) viewed her with suspicion.
At the end of her life, though, after getting very sick, she admitted that her stigmata was fake. She was tried and found guilty by the Inquisition, which sentenced her to penance for the rest of her life in her convent.
4) Around 85% of stigmatists have been women
This number might be a bit dated (it’s hard to find up to date statistics on this sort of thing), but according to a study in the early 20th century, out of 321 known stigmatists from the 13th century until then, only 41 of them had been men.
Even so, some of the most famous cases have been men, such as St. Francis of Assisi and St. Padre Pio.
5) St. Padre Pio had stigmata for 50 years and was studied by multiple doctors
Probably the most famous modern case of stigmata, and one that was able to be examined in light of modern science, was the stigmata of St. Padre Pio.
He first received it as a young man in 1911 at the age of 24. Word began to spread worldwide about his condition in 1919. From the 1920s through the 1950s, multiple sets of doctors and scientists examined and studied his wounds, with differing conclusions. While everyone agreed the wounds were real, they couldn’t conclusively determine whether they were miraculous, natural, or simply self-inflicted.
The Church, however, was satisfied enough with the evidence for Padre Pio being honest that Pope St. John Paul II canonized him in 2002.
6) St. Catherine of Siena had invisible stigmata
The famous 14th century saint first received the normal visible stigmata when she was 28. But she humbly didn’t want to draw attention to herself, so she requested that God take away the physical wounds while keeping the same physical suffering. Other saints have also reportedly done this.