Saint Francis receiving the stigmata

Stigmata is the technical term for wounds that are spontaneously produced on the parts of the body of a religious follower that correspond with the places that Jesus was injured during the crucifixion. They include the places on his hands and feet, where he was nailed to the cross, his forehead where he was scraped by the crown of the thorns and the side where he was jabbed by the Roman centurion.

Stigmata has occurred to over 330 people, most them nuns, priest and monks. The Catholic church is reluctant to recognize stigmata as miraculous. Still more than 60 people who have reportedly experienced it have been beatified. Among them are St. Catherine of Siena and St. Francis of Assisi (See Above), who two years before his death, had a vision of "fiery angel with six wings carrying a crucified man," after which he had wounds in his hands and feet and spear wound in his side. Stygmata wounds appeared on the hands, feet, sides and forehead of the Italian Saint St. Gemma Galgani (1878-1903) at the age of 21 after he had a vision of St. Gabriel Possenti while suffering from severe tuberculosis in his spine.

Incorruptibles are saints who were selected for sainthood not so much because of their good works but because there bodies failed to decay even when they were interned for decades or centuries. In some cases, it was said, the bodies were so astonishingly well preserved they looked as if they were still alive when they were dug up. Around half of the 100 or so Incorrupibles lie in reliquaries in Catholic churches in Italy. The others are in France, Spain, Poland, Austria, Germany, Belgium, India, Peru, Lebanon and other places around the globe.

Chemists, pathologists, radiologists and other doctors — hired by Vatican office that investigates saints — have carefully examined the bodies of some Incorruptibles. They found that most of the bodies clearly had been mummified using procedures similar to those used by the Egyptians but some had been preserved apparently without being tampered with. Some of these resisted decay were kept in extremely dry places or containers. Others were bathed in floodwaters of highly alkaline waters which acted as a preservative. Others offered no plausible explanation. Perhaps it as the work of God

Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity ; History of Christianity ; BBC on Christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance ; Christian Answers ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible ;

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Miracles in Catholicism

A miracle is defined by the Catholic Church as an "inexplicable recovery" that is "sudden, complete and lasting." Peter Stanford wrote for the BBC: “At various Marian shrines around the world, for instance, the Catholic Church believes that a small number of miracle cures of illness have been effected. [Source: Peter Stanford, BBC, June 29, 2011 |::|]

Miracles have always played a big part in winning converts to Christianity. They have come in the form of bleeding paintings of the Virgin Mary, talking images, miracle-working icons and saint's bones and frescoes that have been scraped off the wall and mixed with water and oils poured through the coffins of dead saints and drunk as a medicine.

British historian Robin Cormack wrote in the New York Times, "What could better demonstrate Christ's life on earth than a picture that shared all his powers of healing? Who needed to listen to theological quibbling over the nature of Christ if an icon could speak a thousand words?" In the early church miracles were performed by saints while they were alive. Later on, beginning in medieval times, most miracles were attributed to saints and others after they died.

St. Joseph of Copertino, the Flying Friar

Saint Joseph of Copertino

St. Joseph of Copertino (1603-1663) is know as the Flying Friar. The son of a carpenter, he was born in a stable like Jesus. In school he was known as "Open Mouth" because of his habit of staring at the heavens with his mouth agape. As a teenager he martyred himself by sleeping on boards, whipping himself, and wearing the coarsest hair shirt.

According to Live Science: “In the 1600s, the saint and mystic St. Joseph of Cupertino entered into a religious trance and reportedly began hovering over the crowds. He apparently experienced this levitation multiple times — one time in front of Pope Urban VIII. As a result of his flying exploits, this mystic is the patron saint of pilots. In more recent history, other instances of levitation have been revealed as visual illusions, hoaxes or hallucinations.” [Source: Live Science, July 9, 2013]

At the age of 17, Joseph became a Capuchin monk but he lasted only a few months because trances and visions kept him from performing his chores. He later joined another order and was ordained a priest at the age of 25. He maintained his acetic lifestyle, whipping himself with a whip impregnated with pins and pieces of metal and covering his food with salt and an awful bitter powder.

After nearly being defrocked and charged with heresy by the inquisition Joseph rose in the air with a loud shriek while praying one day in a church. He floated forward in a cross-like position and landed on an alter, covered with flowers and candles. He then rose again and returned to his original position.

News of the miracle spread and he was summoned he summoned before Pope Urban VIII. Joseph kissed the pontiff's feet and was so ecstatic about the experience he rose into the air. Later he was sent to Assisi where he was observed flying 15 meters through a church, embracing a painting of the Virgin Mary. On another occasion he cured a madman after lifting him in the air. Sometimes when Joseph went into a trance he woke up floating in the air. He also reportedly could read people's minds and conducted confessions without anyone saying anything.

Johann Friedreich, the Duke of Brunswick, Prospero Lambertini (the future Pope Benedict XIV) and many others are reported to have witnessed St. Joseph fly into the air and land on some burning candles. A group of nuns, who were there, screamed out, "he will catch on fire," but he returned to the ground un harmed. Lambertini wrote: "Whilst I was discharging the office of promotor fide ...eyewitnesses of exceptional integrity reported on the celebrated levitations and remarkable flights of the servants of God when in a condition of ecstatic rapture."

Joseph was called "most aerial of saints" and had over 100 flights ascribed to him. He was reported to have picked up the sick and carried an18-foot cross and animals aloft with him. He sometimes hovered above the trees and once sailed around a refectory while waving a sea urchin. Not surprisingly Joseph is the patron saint of aviators.

Famous Incorruptible Saints

St Bernadette of Lourdes (died 1879) was born Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France. From February to July 1858, she reported eighteen apparitions of “a Lady.” Despite initial doubts from the Roman Catholic Church, these claims were declared credible belief after a canonical investigation. After her death, Bernadette’s body remained “incorruptible”, and the shrine at Lourdes became a major pilgrimage site, attracting millions of Catholics each year. [Source: Jamie Frater. Listverse, August 21, 2007 ]

incoruptable body of St Bernadette of Lourdes

St. Jean Baptiste Marie Vianney (1786 –1859) was a French parish priest who became a Catholic saint and the patron saint of parish priests. He is often referred to, even in English, as the “Curé d’Ars” (the parish priest of the village of Ars). He became famous internationally for his priestly and pastoral work in his parish due to the radical spiritual transformation of the community and its surroundings.

St Silvan died around A.D. 350. Little known about his life other than he was martyred and his body remarkably preserved despite being over 1,600 years old.

Saint Veronica Giuliani (Veronica de Julianis) (1660-1727) was an Italian mystic born at Mercatello in the Duchy of Urbino in present-day Italy. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, she showed signs of sanctity from an early age. Her legend states that she was only eighteen months old, she uttered her first words to upbraid a shopman who was serving a false measure of oil, saying distinctly: “Do justice, God sees you.”

Saint Zita (1212 – 1272) is the patron saint of maids and domestic servants. She is also appealed to in order to help find lost keys. Zita often said to others that devotion is false if slothful. She considered her work as an employment assigned her by God, and as part of her penance, and obeyed her master and mistress in all things as being placed over her by God. She always rose several hours before the rest of the family and employed in prayer a considerable part of the time which others gave to sleep.

Blessed Anna Maria Taigi (1769 - 1837) was an Italian Roman Catholic and member of the Secular Trinitarians. She experienced a series of ecstasies during her life and was known to have heard the voices of God and Jesus Christ on several occasions. Taigi became a Secular Trinitarian after experiencing a sudden religious conversion in winter 1790 while at Saint Peter's Basilica and came into contact with a range of cardinals and luminaries which included Saint Vincenzo Strambi and Bishop Benedict Joseph Flaget amongst others

Taigi died in 1837 after a period of illness after receiving the Viaticum and the Anointing of the Sick from the local curate. Her remains were exposed until 11 June in the church of Santa Maria in Via Lata and was buried at Campo Verano where - on the orders of Gregory XVI - her remains were enclosed in a leaden sepulcher with seals affixed to it. Cardinal Pedicini often visited her tomb while the Capuchin Cardinal Ludovico Micara always kept an image of her on his person. The Minim priest Venerable Bernardo Clausi said of her: "If she is not in Heaven, there is no room there for anybody". Saint Vincenzo Pallotti praised her after she died for her saintliness and life of holiness. Her remains were transferred to the Basilica of San Crisogono in 1865 after it was discovered that she wanted to be buried there. In 1868 her remains were found intact though her clothes had decayed for the most part so was replaced. In 1920 her remains were found no longer incorrupt.

See Padre Pio Below

Anne Marie Taigi at Saint Chysogone

Stigmata and Strange Religious Phenomena in Germany

The most recent case of stigmata in Germany involved a 20-year-old German women named Therese Neuman. In 1926, six years after becoming blind and bedridden after she helped put out a fire, she developed stigmata below her eyes, heart and hands.

Other cases of stigmata were reported on Anna Katharina Emmerich (1774-1824), a German nun and cow keeper who, at the age of 37, always bled on Friday, developed wounds on her hands, side as well as puncture marks from the crown of thorns on her head; and Maria von Mörl, a German woman whose stigmata on her hands, feet and side were seen by more than 40,000 people.

Baron Albert von Schrenk-Notzing reported in 20th century that Willy Schneider, a famous German medium, "rose horizontally and seemed to rest on an invisible cloud. He ascended to the ceiling and remained five minutes suspended there, moving his legs about rhythmically. The descent was as sudden as the uplifting. The supervision was perfect."

A group of German photographers claimed they took a picture of a human spirit leaving the body of a 32-year-old woman who died on the operating table.

St. Francis

St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) was one of the greatest figures of Christianity and founder of the Franciscan order of monks. He lived an ascetic life of poverty, was famous for his love of all creatures and preached compassion and love for the poor, dispossessed and outcasts.

Canonized in 1228, only two years after his death, St. Francis kissed lepers, gave away all his possessions and preached poverty was holy. He once said, "Your God is of your flesh. He lives in your nearest neighbor, in every man." He and the Franciscans had a lot a to do with making Christianity palatable for the mainstream. His name was attached to many churches and the city of San Francisco.

St. Francis is honored in his hometown of Assisi with the superb Byzantine basilica of San Francesco, the home of a famous series of frescoes by Giotto that depict 28 different episodes of St. Francis’s life. St. Francis was not handsome. He had a long face, eyebrows that went clear across his forehead and large ears. But his eyes were sparkling and he had a sweet voice and gentle manner, if paintings and descriptions of him are to be believed.

20120508-Francisco_de_asissi _y_el_herman.jpg
St. Francis of Assisi
David Burr a translator of St Francis texts, wrote: “Francesco Bernardone was born in Assisi in 1181. His father Pietro was a successful merchant and hoped his son would succeed him in that role. Things turned out differently. Francis seems to have been a winsome and somewhat feckless young man who threw himself into the social life of his city as enthusiastically as he engaged in its military projects. While taking part in the latter he was captured by the Perugians in 1202 and spent a year in prison.

““Of the various sources dealing with Francis' life, the earliest biography is the First Life of Saint Francis written by Thomas of Celano. It was commissioned by pope Gregory IX and was completed by 1230, just four years after Francis' death and two years after his canonization. Later, in 1244, the minister general of the Franciscan order asked all the brothers to submit any additional information about Francis they might have. Using this material, Celano produced another work which, although usually called his Second Life of Saint Francis. is really more of a supplement to the first. It was completed by the middle of 1247.

“Celano's work has the advantage of having been written by an early member of the Franciscan order who could rely on personal experience and the testimony of Francis' dose companions. Its major disadvantage is that it is the official biography of a saint. Thus much of what it says, although not necessarily false, is probably something less than the whole truth.

St. Francis Becomes a Jesus-Like Figure

Thomas of Celano wrote: “During the time when, as we have seen, the venerable father Francis preached to the birds, he went about through cities and towns scattering the seeds of his blessing everywhere. Coming to the city of Ascoli, he preached the word of God fervently as usual. Through a change wrought by the right hand of the Most high, the people were filled with so much love and devotion that they trampled one another hurrying to see and hear him. And thirty men, clerics and laymen, received the habit at that time. So great was the faith of men and w omen, and so great was their devotion to the holy man of God, that they considered fortunate anyone who could at least touch his clothes. When he entered a city, the clergy rejoiced, the bells rang, men exulted, w omen cheered, children applauded, and often, taking branches from the trees, they went to meet him singing. Heretical depravity was confounded, the faith of the church was extolled, and while the faithful engaged in jubilation heretics went into hiding. For so many signs of sanctity appeared in him that no one dared to oppose his words. Indeed, the attention of the crowd was directed at him alone. He felt that the faith of the Holy Roman Church should be observed, honored and imitated above all things, since in it alone lies the salvation of those who are to be saved. He felt great affection for priests and every ecclesiastical order. [Source: Translation by David Burr,]

“The people offered him bread to bless, stored it away for a long time, then were cured of various illnesses when they ate it. In their overwhelming faith they often cut off parts of his clothes, so much that he was often left nearly naked. And w hat is even more marvelous, if the holy father touched some object, it in turn became the m cans by which health was restored to others.

“Thus a certain woman from a little town near Arezzo was pregnant, and when it was time for her to deliver she remained in labor for several days in incredible pain, hanging between life and death. Her neighbors and family heard that Saint Francis was to pass that way as he journeyed to a certain hermitage. They waited, but he went by another route.

“He had gone on horseback because he was ill. When he arrived at his destination, he entrusted the horse to a brother named Peter, who was to bring it back to the man who had loaned it. On his way, Peter passed through the village w here the woman lay suffering. When the men of the village saw him, they hurried up to him thinking he was Francis, but they soon learned the truth and were deeply disappoint ed.

“Finally they began to ask one another if same thing might be found which Francis had touched with his hand. After searching for a long time, they came upon the reigns of the bridle, which he had held while riding. Removing the bridle from the horse's mouth, they placed the reigns on the w oman. Immediately the danger passed. She bore the child safely and joyfully.”

St. Francis, the Stigmata and Death

In 1224, two years before his death, St. Francis went on a 40-day fast. While he was praying his Bible fell open to the story of Jesus’s passion. St. Francis had a vision in which he saw a flaming angel with six wings carrying a crucified man near Mount Alverno in the Apennines. After going into an state of ecstacy stigmata appeared in the form of wounds on his hands and feet and side. On September 17, 1224, the Franciscan, Brother Leo, reported a ray of light was cast on St. Francis and after that he bore stigmata marks on his hands and feet. Two popes — Gregory IX and Alexander IV — confirmed the reports. Today, some see the stigmata as a culmination of a career devoted to faith, and a bond with the crucified Christ.

Thomas of Celano wrote: “Two years before Francis gave his soul back to heaven, while he was staying in a hermitage called "Alverna" after the place where it was located, he saw in a vision from God a man with six wings like a seraph, standing above him with hands extended and feet together, affixed to a cross. Two wings were raised over his head, two were extended in flight, and two hid his entire body. [Source: Translation by David Burr,]

20120508-stigmata St Francis Assisi stigmata.jpg
stigmata of St. Francis
“When the blessed servant of God saw these things he was filled with wonder, but he did not know w hat the vision meant. He rejoiced greatly in the benign and gracious expression with which he saw himself regarded by the seraph, whose beauty was indescribable; yet he was alarmed by the fact that the seraph was affixed to the cross and was suffering terribly. Thus Francis rose, one might say, sad and happy, joy and grief alternating in him. He wondered anxiously w hat this vision could mean, and his soul was uneasy as it searched for understanding. And as his understanding sought in vain for an explanation and his heart was filled with perplex it y at the great novelty of this vision, the marks of nails began to appear in his hands and feet, just as he had seen them slightly earlier in the crucified man above him.

“His hands and feet seemed to be pierced by nails, with the heads of the nails appearing in the palms of his hands and on the upper sides of his feet, the points appearing on the other side. The marks were round on the palm of each hand but elongated on the other side, and small pieces of flesh jutting out from the rest took on the appearance of the nail-ends, bent and driven back. In the same way the marks of nails were impressed on his feet and projected beyond the rest of the flesh. Moreover, his right side had a large wound as if it had been pierced with a spear, and it often bled so that his tunic and trousers were soaked with his sacred blood.

“Alas, how few were worthy of viewing the wound I n the side of this crucified servant of the crucified Lord I How fortunate was Elias, who was worthy of seeing it while the holy man lived, but no less fortunate was Rufinus, who touched the wound with his own hands. For once, when the aforesaid brother Rufinus put his hand on the holy man's chest in order to rub him, his hand fell to his right side, as often occurs, and he happened to touch that precious wound.

"The holy man of God suffered great anguish from that touch and, pushing the hand away, he cried out to the Lord to forgive him. He carefully hid the wound from outsiders and cautiously concealed it from those near him, so that even his most devoted followers and those who were constantly at his side knew nothing of it for a long time. And although the servant and friend of the most high saw himself adorned with many costly pearls as if with precious gems, and marvelously decked out beyond the glory and honor of other men, he did not become vain or seek to please anyone through desire for personal glory, but, lest human favor should steal away the grace given to him, he attempted to hide it in every way possible.

“During this period Francis' body began to be beset by more serious illnesses than previously. He suffered frequent illnesses because for many years he had castigated his body perfectly, reducing it to servitude. For during the preceding eighteen years his flesh had scarcely or never found rest, but traveled constantly throughout various wide areas so that the prompt, devout and fervent spirit within him could scatter God's word everywhere.”

St. Francis died on October 3, 1226 in Assisi. Witnesses say light emanated from his body and bells rang spontaneously at the moment of his death. Many people came to see the his body and check out if stigmata marks were for real. His body now lies in a famous church in Assisi. Within 20 years after his death the Franciscan order had grown so large 9,000 religious houses had been built.

Padre Pio

Padre Pio

Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio, 1887-1968) was an Italian Capuchin friar, faith healer and mystic. He reportedly predicted the future, performed numerous miracles and possessed the wounds of stygmata of Christ. Born Francesci Forgione, he served as a military chaplin in World War I after become a Capuchin monk at the age 19. He died in 1968 at the age of 81 and was declared a saint in 2002.

According to the BBC: Saint Pio was credited with thousands of miraculous cures during his lifetime, and is still venerated as a miracle-worker. For years the Vatican opposed the cult which grew up around Padre Pio, but then changed its attitude, granting him the highest honour possible after his death: full sainthood. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002 and his feast day falls on 23rd September. [Source: BBC, September 11, 2009 |::|]

“Pio was said to have known what penitents would confess to him. He reportedly wrestled with the devil in his cell. In granting him sainthood, the Church officially recognised two of his miracles: the curing of an 11-year-old boy who was in a coma and the medically inexplicable recovery of a woman with lung disease. |::|

“Pio is revered for having borne stigmata: permanent wounds on his hands and feet like those Christ suffered at the crucifixion. He lived for decades with these bleeding wounds. Doctors never found a medical explanation for the injuries, which never healed but never became infected. Pio's followers said he bore the wounds of the crucified Christ.” |::|

Padre Pio's Stigmata and Issues with His Miracles

In 1912, at the age of 25, Padre Pio began complaining of having pains in his hands, feet and side for no reason. Three years after that he collapsed while praying and stigmata wounds appeared and a photograph was circulated that showed blood dripping from his palms while blessing a congregation.

young Padre Pio with the stigmata

The stigmata reportedly lasted from 1920 to 1968, with Padre Pio losing about a cup of blood every day. Doctors were unable to explain why blood oozed from his wounds for more than half a century without him being cut and why the wounds closed and left no scares after he died. Padre Pio received a lot of attention in the 1960s when he reportedly cured a mother of four of throat cancer. One another occasion a girl lost her finger and it reportedly grew back after putting on one of Padre Pio's gloves. He also reportedly predicted the selection of Pope John Paul II as the pontiff and attempt on his life on 1981.

Padre Pio also reportedly gave off strange odors that would linger for hours on anything he touched; had the ability to pear into people's souls and hear there their confessions without them uttering a word; had the gift of bilocation (appearing in two places at once); and was able to mystically fly (in World War II he reportedly rescued an Italian pilot whose plane was struck by enemy fire).

Padre Pio was suspended twice by the Vatican because his activities were embarrassing to the church. He was investigated by a papal commission which determined he was a fraud. The stigmata wore allegedly produced with a conjuring trick and many of his miracles were attributed to auto-suggestion. In the 1950s and 50s, Padre Pio was involved in a shady high-interest financial scandal that left several monasteries in financial ruin. Right-wing groups used his name to raise funds. He reportedly engaged in sexual discussions with women in the confession box and encouraged "pious women" to spend time with him.

Padre Pio's Canonization

Padre Pio died in 1968. A cult grew up around him and his black marble tomb in the southern Italian village of San Giovanni Rotondo, where he founded a major hospital and attracted millions of visitors. The hospital, called the House of Relief of Suffering, earns millions from selling kitschy items with Padre Pio's picture. In 1999, Padre Pio was beatified by Pope John Paul II after a woman who recovered from a burst lymph vessel after praying to Padre Pio after he died was declared miraculous.

According to the BBC: “Pio was canonised by the late Pope John Paul II in 2002. John Paul II was said to have a special affection for Padre Pio, and as a young man travelled to his monastery in southern Italy for confession. The approval of Padre Pio's sainthood took place in record time, but during his lifetime many in the Church doubted claims of his miraculous cures and suggested he was a fraud. [Source: BBC, September 11, 2009 |::|]

“Even before his canonisation, Padre Pio's former monastery at San Giovanni Rotondo had become a major site of pilgrimage for Catholics from around the world. His shrine there receives eight million visitors a year. Pio's image is displayed in homes, shops, garages - even on the backs of trucks - in many parts of Italy.” |::|

Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo, Foggio, Italy

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; “ Metropolitan Museum of Art, Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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