Mystic and Stigmatic, Capuchin friar Padre Pio (Francesco Forgione) (1887–1968) celebrating mass. The stigmata on his hands can be seen. He bears on his body the five marks of the crucifixion of Christ, on hands, feet and side.

STIGMATA HAVE BEEN such welldocumented, historical phenomena that many sceptics have been forced to accept their legitimacy. The affliction creates marks on the hands, feet, side and brow which reflect the wounds Christ suffered on the cross. The marks often bleed or secrete a liquid, and can appear and disappear in a matter of hours. It is usually only saints and the most devoutly religious who experience stigmata. It not only leaves a physical representation of Christ’s wounds, but stigmatics often feel pain near the marks, and many report a lifelong sense of despair and suffering. Some even feel the lashing of whips across their backs. Religious followers believe that the pain is an integral part of stigmata.

The first celebrated stigmatic was Saint Francis of Assisi. His holy marks appeared in 1222 and were of an extent never subsequently equalled. The skin on his hands and feet actually grew out of the wounds to form calluses in the shape of nails. Since his time, there have been over three hundred reported stigmatics, sixty-two of which were saints. Georgio Bongiavani is one of the most well known recent sufferers of stigmata. In his case, wounds on his hands and forehead seem to appear and disappear almost at will. The explanation for stigmata is still a mystery. Doctors have recorded that blood secreted by the wounds is a different type to the stigmatic’s blood group or is an unknown liquid, or even exudes a perfume.

A popular theory is that stigmata are psychosomatic afflictions brought on by extreme levels of worship. Some believe stigmatics unconsciously bring about these wounds by their devotion to Christ. Many stigmatics have reported their wounds appearing in their greatest intensity around
the holy days of Easter, when sufferers are most engrossed by religious events. Similarly, each stigmatic’s wounds generally correspond to the marks on the statue of the person they most often worship. If the statue is nailed through the wrist and ankles, their wounds appear in the wrist and ankles. But of course, there is another theory: that stigmata are sent by God as a gift to only the most holy.

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