They’ve been a staple of Christian mysticism since the 13th century, but what exactly are stigmata?
According to legend, stigmata are the physical manifestations of the bodily wounds inflicted on Jesus Christ at his crucifixion along his hands, feet, head, and back. Primarily found in the Roman Catholic Church, stigmata have been recorded since the 13th century when St. Francis of Assisi claimed to be the first to experience the mystical phenomenon.
Stigmata have appeared for centuries, mostly in women in the Catholic church. There are times when the individual’s hands and feet begin to bleed in the same places Jesus was nailed to the cross. Sometimes, they’ll begin to bleed from their side, where the lance pierced His ribs. Others claim to bleed from their foreheads where the crown of thorns was placed on Jesus’s head or across their back from the beating He received. Others still have been seen sweating and crying blood. The wounds always appear, never get infected, heal, only to reopen again. Many consider the stigmata to be a miracle while others believe it to be a hoax.
Many scientists have studied the stigmata and the people who suffer from it (or are they blessed by it?) with the hope of debunking the phenomenon. In 1935, Dr. Edward Frederick Hartung was the first to begin to study the stigmata and try to find a logical explanation behind it. According to his research, he believed that St. Francis suffered from quartan malaria (a common ailment in St. Francis’s time). One of the side effects of quartan malaria is purpura, a purple hemorrhage of blood under the skin. It’s quite likely that while making his pilgrimage to Mount La Verna (where the stigmata first appeared), he punctured his hand, and released the blood.
Of course, stigmata don’t just appear in Christianity. In fact, they’ve been seen all over the world by individuals from vastly different religions. The Warao indigenous people of Venezuela believe in a mystical snake that creates openings in the palm of peoples’ hands. In Buddhism, stigmata are commonly depicted in Buddhist artwork. And even in Spiritualism, stigmata have appeared on those conducting seances.
Whether stigmata are a connection to a powerful spirit beyond our realm of understanding or simply an 800-year-old hoax, is yet to be decided. But there are some that claim their holy connection is real even to their dying day, and who are we to say that those bloody tears they’re crying aren’t legit (albeit terrifying)?
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