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What is the Stigmata: Real, Fake, or Medically Triggered?

Updated on May 5, 2017
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Mona writes a column for Enrich Magazine which is distributed in five countries. She is interested in learning as she writes.

First page of my article in Enrich magazine
First page of my article in Enrich magazine | Source

I visited Baclayon Cathedral, Bohol -- the second oldest cathedral in the Philippines. (Note: Recently, this church in Ubay was among four cathedrals, that were destroyed by typhoon Haiyan, which in the Philippines is called Typhoon Yolanda). Baclayon town is a minor municipality with a population of 18,630. However, in 2007 it became renowned when a Japanese tourist noticed the image of Padre Pio on one of the cathedral’s pillars.

Note: Although Baclayon Cathedral's facade was damaged, photos below indicate that the pillar with Padre Pio's image still stands. Shown are photos before and after the typhoon.

Padre Pio (1887 – 1968) is a Capuchin priest from Italy who is widely known for having the stigmata, (the five wounds of Jesus Christ on his hands and side). In his lifetime the Catholic church ordained him a saint -- not for the stigmata but for other miracles that a church investigation confirmed --- miraculous healing, bilocation and reading of souls. He bore the stigmata for 50 years.

Baclayon Church before Typhoon Yolanda

Baclayon Church before Typhoon Yolanda. The image of Padre Pio can be seen on the pillar to the right. To the left of the pillar is an arch entrance, and to the extreme left is the bell tower before it was destroyed by Typhoon Yolanda.
Baclayon Church before Typhoon Yolanda. The image of Padre Pio can be seen on the pillar to the right. To the left of the pillar is an arch entrance, and to the extreme left is the bell tower before it was destroyed by Typhoon Yolanda. | Source

Baclayon Church after typhoon Yolanda. The pillar with Padre Pio's image is unharmed

The suppot pillar with Padre Pio's image is still whole. It stands to the right of a small arch entryway and the destroyed bell tower.
The suppot pillar with Padre Pio's image is still whole. It stands to the right of a small arch entryway and the destroyed bell tower. | Source

Some question the fact of the priest’s stigmata. An article in the Telegraph tells of a pharmacist who, in 1919, said that Padre Pio purchased four grams (less than a teaspoon) of carbolic acid.

Ramon E. Rodriguez, a devotee, owns a compound in Metro Manila where The Philippine Center for St. Pio of Pietreicina, St Pio Center, is. Rodriguez claimed to be healed of half blindness through Padre Pio’s intercession and approached Italian priest Fr. Antonio Pompilio to evaluate the Baclayon Church image. The Vatican has yet to recognize it.

St. Francis of Assisi

The first saint who was recognized by the Vatican to have the stigmata, St. Francis of Assisi, bore it on the last two years of his life. However, he was proclaimed a saint not for his stigmata but for miracles such as healing the sick (including the blind, crippled, paralyzed, lepers and terminally ill, among others).

Second page of my article, published in Enrich Magazine, shows photo of Padre Pio.
Second page of my article, published in Enrich Magazine, shows photo of Padre Pio. | Source

Number of people with stigmata

According to newadvent.org, 321 people with the stigmata are believed to be divinely caused. Forty one of them are men. Of the total 321 people, 62 of them are saints.

Usually accompanying the stigmata are extraordinary gifts such as living for years on the Holy Eucharist without other food, levitation, bilocation, prophecy, perfumed odors from the wounds, healing of the sick, ability to read souls and read thoughts from a distance.

Fake Stigmatas

There are also fake stigmatas by Catholics and non-Catholics. In some cases the wounds were self-inflicted and very superficial. In other cases chemicals were used, like combining iron chloride with potassium isocyanide. Both are invisible but when they are mixed together they look like red blood. Other fake stigmatas were caused by thermal or acid burns.

Mental illness and stigmatas

Third page of my article on Enrich Magazine
Third page of my article on Enrich Magazine | Source

A number of mental illnesses are related with the stigmata. They include:

  1. Munchausen syndrome. A person self-inflicts the wound to draw attention to himself or herself.
  2. Schizophrenia. A person may have multiple personalities, one of which is self-cutting, sometimes like a stigmata. When another personality takes over there is no memory of the cause of the injury.
  3. Hysteria. A study by The American Journal of Psychiatry links hysteria with stigmata citing several cases, including that of Therese Neumann who is described as “seriously disturbed” with a “severe hysterical personality.” The study said Neumann may have been psychotic even before stigmatization.
  4. Psychogenic purpura. According to the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena, stigmata can also be caused by psychogenic purpura or spontaneous hemorrhaging with no clear basis or reason. The stigmata may be psychosomatically caused from religious devotion. The stigmatized person identifies so closely with Christ that the wounds appear spontaneously. Another case of psychogenic purpura was recorded by Dr. Robert Moody whose patient, an army officer, sometimes spontaneously produced rope-like marks on the areas of his body where he had been tied up during the war. These wounds would sometimes bleed.

My name is included on Contributors' List on fifth line, Mona Sabalones Gonzalez..
My name is included on Contributors' List on fifth line, Mona Sabalones Gonzalez.. | Source
Cover of Enrich November, 2013 issue where my article was  featured.
Cover of Enrich November, 2013 issue where my article was featured. | Source

Catholic Criteria for a Genuine Stigmata

The Catholic church has a set of criteria to determine if a stigmata is genuine. According to catholicreference.net these criteria are:

  1. The wounds should be on the same spots where Jesus received the five wounds during his crucifixion. The person with the stigmata should also be experiencing the physical pain of Christ as the stigmata appears.
  2. The wounds should be fresh. The stigmata tends to occur on Thursdays and last until Friday. Padre Pio, however, had the stigmata daily.
  3. The wounds should not fester. They should bleed freely and the blood should be pure every time the stigmata occurs.
  4. The wounds do not respond to medical treatment and may last for up to 40 years. However, the stigmata of Padre Pio lasted for 50 years.
  5. There is also the invisible stigmata, where a person experiences the physical pain of the wounds of Christ but the wounds themselves do not manifest. The “hidden” stigmata is more painful than the visible stigmata, according to miraclesofthesaints.com.
  6. The person who has the stigmata should lead a pious life and be a devoted Catholic, according to eden.rugers.edu. In fact, the church is bound to recognize more the quality of the person’s life, rather than the fact that the person has the stigmata.

In the video below, a doctor talks of Munchhausen syndrome and wounds, among other things.

Munchhausen's Syndrome

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    • grand old lady profile image
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      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Hi Jonnie, I wouldn't say psychosomatosis is the only way, but would definitely be one way to cause a stigmata. Thanks for reading, and do join Hub Pages!

    • profile image

      Jonnie 2 years ago

      Psychosomatic is the only explanation for authentic stigmata.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Hi Ologsinquito, yes, I also believe that Padre Pio's stigmata was genuine. I will look up the story of Magdalena de la Cruz. Thanks for the tip!

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

      I agree that each case of stigmata has to be thoroughly investigated before it is accepted. There have been a number of pious frauds in the history of the Church, among them Magdalena de la Cruz, a religious sister who faked gifts, with the help of the devil. However, I don't believe the story about Saint Padre Pio buying carbolic acid. This could have just been an attempt to discredit him.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      Thank you Alastar Packer. Yes, Padre Pio is one case that is very difficult to explain in a natural way. He was quite exceptional and led a remarkable life:).

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 3 years ago from North Carolina

      You've got a good many interesting stories here on HP, Mona. Like the fact of your personal photos on this fine read. Padre Pio certainly had something mystical events going on besides his stigmata that were very-well documented. Yes, lots of fakers and hysterics in the business but some truly inexplicable cases as well.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      Anita Saran, thank you for your comment and for visiting. I, too find the lives of saints interesting, even if I'm a former Catholic (not anymore). The objective view, I find, makes their stories so much more interesting than they used to be. I say this without taking away from the worthiness of their achievements:)

    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 3 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Fascinating. I find lives of the saints very interesting. Voted up and Shared on Pininterest.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      Agreed, CMHypno, it would be a weird way for a deity to reward an avid follower. There is a "protestant" group that I saw in YouTube where the woman had a stigmata, but I think it was obviously fake and she knew it.

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 3 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Interesting hub. The unconscious mind is so powerful that it would be very difficult to determine whether the wounds were psychosomatic in origin or a genuine supernatural phenomenon. To my mind it is rather a strange way for a deity to reward its most pious followers and I would also question the emotional health of people who think that physical pain is a good thing and something they need to endure to prove their devotion. There must be a happier, healthier way. I wonder if there are examples of stigmata in non-Catholics?

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      Thank you macteacher. The stigmata is a rather fascinating topic, isn't it?

    • macteacher profile image

      Wendy Golden 3 years ago from New York

      Well researched article on a fascinating topic. Voted up!

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      Thank you, Flourish Anyway. Yes, I agree the medical side really adds substance to the entire piece.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Very interesting reading here! Even those involving mental illness are interesting.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks travel_man1971. I didn't know there was a movie! I'm gonna look it up, for sure.

    • travel_man1971 profile image

      Ireno Alcala 3 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      Liked and shared it already. I've seen the film, based from true account.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      Thank you Nell Rose. It is truly an interesting topic and I agree with you, these days, it's often used to con others. I can't imagine the physical pain that a person would go through if he or she had a genuine stigmata. But if it's genuine, it is doubtless followed by exceeding grace:)

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

      This was fascinating reading, and something that has intrigued me for many years. I think the problem is that in the past it may have definitely happened, but over the years many people have seen it as a way to con the public, but I don't think anybody can really know. voted up and shared! nell

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      Thank you alexadry:) I appreciate your kind words.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      That was quite an interesting read on a topic that is mysterious and yet fascinating. Voted up!

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks for reading, Ericdierker:). I'm glad you found this interesting.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very interesting thank you.

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