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What is the Stigmata: Real, Fake, or Medically Triggered?
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 after typhoon Yolanda. The pillar with Padre Pio's image is unharmed
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).
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.
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
A number of mental illnesses are related with the stigmata. They include:
- Munchausen syndrome. A person self-inflicts the wound to draw attention to himself or herself.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- The wounds should be fresh. The stigmata tends to occur on Thursdays and last until Friday. Padre Pio, however, had the stigmata daily.
- The wounds should not fester. They should bleed freely and the blood should be pure every time the stigmata occurs.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.