Wounds for Healing: Saints and the Stigmata Miracle

Saints Who Had Bleeding Stigmata Like Christ’s Crucifixion Marks

Jesus Christ crucifixion cross stigmata
Stigmata wounds match the wounds that Jesus Christ suffered during his crucifixion. Inhauscreative/Getty Images

Can wounds actually be marks of healing?  Stigmata miracle wounds may be. These bleeding lacerations that match the injuries Jesus Christ suffered during his crucifixion are signs of God's healing love for people in pain, believers say. Here's a look at the stigmata phenomenon, and the stories of some famous saints who had stigmata.

A Hoax or a Wake Up Call for Compassion?

Stigmata gets people's attention because it's a dramatic illustration of pain involving blood, which is an essential life force.

The Bible says that the only way sinful people could connect to a holy God is through a blood sacrifice; Jesus declared that was God incarnated on Earth to make that sacrifice and save humanity from sin because of his great love for people. As he died a violent death on the cross, Jesus suffered five bleeding wounds: on both of his hands and both of his feet from nails that Roman soldiers hammered through his body, and a gash in his side from a soldier's spear. Stigmata wounds replicate those original crucifixion wounds (and sometimes also marks on the forehead, where Jesus was injured by a crown of thorns he was forced to wear), making Jesus' experience less abstract and more concrete to people who contemplate stigmata.

Stigmata wounds appear suddenly and without explanation. They ooze real blood and cause real pain, but don't become infected, and often give off a sweet-smelling fragrance that believers call the odor of sanctity.

People with true stigmata are living “signs of God’s mercy and love for unbelievers, channels of his grace to those who need healing, renewal and conversion” who “show a Christ who is very much alive today, the same Jesus who lived in our midst some 2,000 years ago,” writes Michael Freze, S.F.O., in his book They Bore the Wounds of Christ: The Mystery of the Sacred Stigmata.

However, supernatural miracles such as stigmata must be thoroughly investigated for proper spiritual discernment, Freze adds. “… the church wisely proceeds with great caution when she hears of a stigmatist in her midst. For every authenticated case of stigmata, there have been ‘false stigmata’ normally associated with a series of possible causes: diabolical origins; mental disease or sickness; hysteria; self-hypnotic suggestion; and nervous conditions that can cause the skin to redden, break, and even bleed.”

Skeptics say that stigmata is a hoax perpetrated by people who are seeking attention for themselves. But believers say that stigmata is a wake up call for people to feel more compassion -- just as Jesus has compassion for them.

Some Famous Saints Who Had Stigmata Wounds

Some Bible scholars believe that the first recorded case of stigmata wounds involved Saint Paul the Apostle, who wrote in Galatians 6:17 of the Bible: "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus." In the manuscript's original Greek language, the word for "marks" is "stigmata."

Since the 1200s -- when Saint Francis of Assisi encountered a seraphim angel who witnesses said gave him the next recorded case of stigmata wounds -- about 400 people so far in history have experienced authenticated cases of stigmata.

Saint Padre Pio, an Italian priest who was known for his devotion to prayer and meditation as well as his many psychic gifts, had stigmata wounds for 50 years. Over the years, many different doctors examined Padre Pio’s wounds and determined that the wounds were genuine, but there was no medical explanation for them.

On the morning of September 20, 1918, while in church at San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, Padre Pio received the stigmata. He saw a vision of Jesus bleeding from his crucifixion wounds. Padre Pio later recalled: “The sight terrified me. The vision slowly disappeared, and I became aware that my hands, my feet, and my side were also dripping with blood.” Padre Pio then noticed that the crucifix hanging in front of him had come alive, with fresh blood oozing out of the wounds on its image of Jesus on the cross.

Yet despite that alarming sight and the shock of his own bleeding, Padre Pio said, a strong sense of peace came over him.

Saint Therese Neumann, a German woman who claimed to have survived for several decades without any food or water except the bread and wine from Communion, had stigmata wounds from 1926 until her death in 1962. A variety of doctors examined and observed her through the years, trying to come up with a medical explanation for her stigmata and apparent survival without proper nourishment. But they couldn't explain what was happening to her. She said the explanation was miraculous -- that the stigmata and fasting were gifts from God that helped her rely on his power when praying for others.Therese was bedridden for much of her life but used her time to pray for people often.

Saint John of God was a Spanish man who was deeply moved by the suffering of others that he saw around him, and he said his stigmata wounds helped motivate him to do whatever he could to help others. In the 1500s, he founded many hospitals for people in need of healing from illnesses and injuries; after his death, he was named the patron saint of hospitals.

Saint Catherine of Sienna, an Italian woman in the 1300s who was known for her highly influential writing about faith and philosophy, had stigmata wounds during the last five years of her life. Concerned that people would focus too much on her and not enough on God if they discovered her stigmata, Catherine prayed that her wounds wouldn't become public knowledge until after her death. That's what ended up happening. Only a few people who were close to her knew about the stigmata while she was alive; after she died at age 33, the public found out about the stigmata because the marks were on her body.

It’s impossible to predict when the stigmata phenomenon will occur next, or through which person. But the curiosity and wonder that stigmata sparks in people will likely continue as long as this intriguing phenomenon does.