Stigmatics are people in whom the stigmata, the wounds inflicted on Jesus when he was crucified, are reproduced. Since the phenomenon first appeared in the Middle Ages, about 500 stigmatics have been reported.

What explains stigmatism? Is it Jesus reminding us through His messengers of the pain He suffered as He redeemed mankind? Is it a biological process tied to religious mentational activity—the biotheological phenomenon par excellence ? Or is it simply fraud?

We know that emotions can cause skin eruptions. The medical term for this is psychogenic purpuras, bruising and bleeding from the skin from emotional stress. However, these look like bruises, or spots—not wounds. And the bleeding is subdural—under the skin.

There are substantial grounds for doubting supernatural explanations, besides the fact that some stigmatics themselves admitted they were frauds (such as Magdalena de la Cruz, 1487-1560). There is no video or other objective, scientific account of a stigmatic episode. It seems unusual that stigmatism would have emerged in the 1200s, right when there was an emphasis on the crucifixion, and then largely died out over the last few hundred years. Furthermore, stigmata appear in people’s palms, whereas it now seems likely that the actual wound was in Jesus’ wrist. Virtually all stigmatics are Roman Catholic.

Of course, there are reported aspects to stigmata that do not and probably could not have a scientific explanation, including the fact that they heal instantly, have no odor (or sometimes smell like perfume), bleed only on holy days , and even have a blood type different from the sufferer. If we want to adopt a non-supernatural explanation, we simply have to reject these reports as being pious falsehoods, as we would also reject reports of crying statues of the Virgin Mary.

What we do know is that self-mutilation and flagellation are associated with a variety of psychological disorders which in turn may involve religious manifestations. Cutting has been reported to be the most popular type of self-mutilation. Such disorders have been associated with eating disorders—which also appear in religious contexts, where they are sometimes hailed as miracles allowing saints to survive with no food intake. Both psychopathologies are much more common in females than males, which foots with the fact that 90% of known stigmatics have been female.

There are also reports of unusual mental activity during stigmatic episodes. Some stigmatics reportedly speak to visions of Christ and angels during their trials, and smell strange scents. Many female stigmatics were reported to be “ecstatics”—which apparently means they were in dissociative or schizoid episodes some or all of the time. Today, most of these girls would be on high doses of antipsychotics drugs.

The work of Ross and McKay on adolescent female self-mutilators, who carved themselves with words, letters, and symbols, is reminiscent of variant stigmata involving the names of Jesus and Mary appearing on the body. (St. Francis, an early stigmatic, also had unusual wounds: the skin formation on his palms is said to have actually replicated the shape of the head of the nail on the palm side and, on the reverse side, that of the shaft.)

Stepping back, the relationship between the corporeal and the divine is one of the most complex and profound in our psychosocial spaces. The physical body is our vehicle for experiencing the ultimate, and its gift to us. It is not surprising, that we would find intriguing phenomena at this boundary, or that world religions mark and celebrate it with ceremonies and rituals involving the body, including flagellation—not to mention circumcision.

Fakir Musafar is an artist who is exploring this realm in a non-religious context, the founder of the so-called Modern Primitive Movement, attempting to show that “deviant” self-mutilation is actually on the same spectrum as something as mundane as, say, nose-piercing. According to Musafar, “body play [as he calls it] offers a method for achieving spiritual grace, an enhanced state of awareness, and a communion with some form of higher power,” and “rituals involving self-mutilation practiced by other societies have many beneficial effects to offer those who approach the practice of body play with awareness and respect.”

Musafar says:

…we are doing more than just pushing steel needles through flesh. Something is happening in the emotional and psychic world of both the piercer and the piercee. It’s more than hanging rings there just for looks. In many cases, some of the people we pierce actually experience some kind of transformation. A self initiation. And these changes mean magic…as the people who have done this for thousands of years have discovered, it can be transmuted into ecstasy, bliss and other states of grace.

But most people would still distinguish esthetic body modifications from pathological self-mutilation, especially the type where significant damage is done to the body. The majority of such patients suffer from a psychotic disorder, and have their own “reasons” for engaging in the behavior, according to A. R. Favazza, who also notes that “the most common reasons provided by patients have historically been associated with religion, demonic influences, guilt over sexual thoughts and activities, or heavenly commands.”

Ian Wilson is the author of The bleeding mind: An investigation into the mysterious phenomenon of stigmata. He believes that stigmata are a manifestation of undiscovered abilities of the mind to influence the very shape and functioning of the human body, related to the ability to heal warts with your mind (or increase your breast size). According to a review on, Wilson thinks the “phenomenon is a psychological one, with a pathology related closely to multiple personality disorder. Stress and poverty in early life are a common thread running through the lives of many stigmatists. Nearly all suffered some sort of personal catastrophe before the onset of the stigmata, and nearly all had a predisposition to trance states and other altered modes of consciousness. Aparently stigmatists identify so closely with the life of Christ and visualize Him so clearly that some undiscovered physiological mechanism imposes Christ’s marks of suffering on the body of the stigmatist.”

But undiscovered physiological mechanisms don’t have much explanatory power, do they. Although Numenware tries to maintain a studiously objective stance on such issues, my hypothesis is that stigmata are cases of self-multilation as part of psychotic states with religious fixations, and that the reports of unique bleeding or healing patterns are simply pious falsehoods. Unfortunately, with the last known stigmatic, Padre Pio (the newly sainted Italian priest) having died in 1968, any experimental design to validate this hypothesis will be limited to studying historical accounts.


Skeptic’s Dictionary

Catholic Encyclopedia


17 Responses to “Stigmata”

  1. hokai Says:

    thank you, bob. a fine survey of the subject. perhaps it’s useful to remind ourselves how the need for miracles is quite legitimate as an intuition of transcendence, even when unimaginative notions of miracle are all some people seem to get at. however, this in no way alters the fact that extreme states do indeed produce visible scars and marks, as shown by PET scans of brain after extreme stress or breakdown, visible changes on the surface of cranium, radical/permanent change in facial expression etc. sensory hallucinations are a different issue. godspeed.

  2. Dingbat Says:

    The rituals of the past are a observed reality. The so called light is the energy which ultimately caries the power in means of wave and radiation, the eye cannot observe its reality . I believe it , it is possible to communicate with spirit world.

  3. Adrian De La Rosa Says:

    How does stigmata happen

  4. megan carey Says:

    im doing a project for my science class on stigmata, if you could give me more info on it it would be greatly appreciated
    thank you

  5. Declan HIggins Says:

    Very good site. The stigmatism of people fascinates me you have brodened my view of stigmatism and made me more open mided about them. Thank you very much

  6. Nadia Real Says:

    My name is Nadia RealI go to nogales high school and im doin a reaserch paper on stigmata. i would like to know if stigmata is real and if the people that it happens to dye ir still survive im really intrested to know about this situation and any information you could send me would be great and appressiated

  7. priya Says:

    what is stigmata and why does this happen to people and how many people did this happen to and i want to see photo. what kind of people did this happen to is this real or people make this up.

  8. Katie Says:

    When was the most recent stigmata, and what was his or her name?

  9. alfonso Says:

    Hi im doing my senior project about stigmata, and I was wondering if you could just tell me some information about this. For example what do you know: and why, how, where, and when does it happen? Thank you.

  10. Andrea Thomas Says:

    Hello i’m doing my senior English research paper on stigmata and I was wondering if you could tell me some information about it. i would really like to know why, how, what days,and just info about it. Thanks

  11. Annie Says:

    Hello Sir/ Madam,

    I’m a christian and a believer in stigmata. I would be very pleased if you could research on stigmata with a christian’s eye. Perhaps then your perspective would be very different. I would also like to add that there are stigmatics living today like Myrna Nazzour from Syria and Katya Rivas and many more who have not revealed it to the world.There have been tests done on them while they were bleeding.Katya Rivas was filmed as she bled and it so happened that the doctors who were trying to find a scientific answer concluded that she was epileptic.
    Katya who was in another room where she was tested told the person standing next to her that, Jesus informed her about the doctors conclusion. Fox news i believe has telecasted it . I hope everyone checks it out for themselves

    Thank you,

    Dear friends. what if there is a God and there is a judgement Day. Remember you must be accountable of your lives.I Pray that you search for God . If you do so with all your heart then you will find him. And know this that God loves you IMMEASURABLY
    Cheerio 🙂

  12. ????? Says:

    hi ?????,
    i would just like to say too all you people out there that do not belive in god, well start i no i might sound like 1 of dem people that cum round tryin 2 get ya 2 change ur religion well im not im only 16 and well 2 be honet i dont reely belive in him that much, well thats up until 2day i dunno what happened but alls im sayin is belive.

    thanks 🙂

  13. Jasmine Says:

    I was looking up stigmata because I got two round unexpanable bruises on my wrists one on each wrist I found it kind of weird?

  14. Jud Says:

    Stigmata is a matter of belief. Of course there have always been a history of fraud where individuals do it for material gain but that does not exempt those that have no signs of or desire for financial gain and have been authentic in nature. Skeptics will always look for a way to discount any supernatural encounters. That is fine, because that is needed to weed out the fraud. No matter what, these manifestations whether true or false will always be around and it is up to the individual to decide either through pragmatic research or just belief to decide on their own what they want to believe.

  15. Alison Says:

    It happened to me when I was very young, but I didn’t understand what was going on, so I’d just wipe the blood off until the wound indeed healed simultaneously, and then I’d get on with my life. I wish I had shown my parents when it happened. Now that I have only recently brought it up, they don’t know if my case was genuine. But I do.

  16. Megan Rayne Says:

    Thanx 4 all the info!!
    Jesus loves you and after reading this i belive that this is realistic and i’m going to pray about it.
    <3 megan

  17. Numenware, a blog about neurotheology » Blog Archive » Numenware turns six months old Says:

    […] popular? At the top of the list recently are posts about Bhutan’s Tiger’s Lair, Stigmata, Pachacuti as Builder, God and the brain in your gut, and Computational models of […]

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