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Sunday, December 13, 2020

Decemystery (2020) 13: Stigmata


Whether you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, Buddhist, Hindu, or any other follower of another religion, I would eager that know the story of Jesus Christ.

The central figure and Messiah of the Christian faith, Jesus is said to be the son of God Himself, sent to Earth to die by crucifixion for the sins of humanity. There’s a considerable amount more to it than just that and honestly, despite being Catholic, I almost certainly got something wrong in the first sentence of this paragraph.

What? I sure as heck am not a theologian.

Lucky for me, I don’t need to be one for today’s story—in spite of it dealing heavily with religion. Known as stigmata, there is a very strange phenomenon where people mysteriously become wounded in a manner similar to the way Jesus was crucified. While there is one prominent difference, it’s never been adequately explained as to why this occurs. So today, I would like to see if we can come to some sort of conclusion and seal off what is arguably one of the most traumatizing mysteries of my childhood. So come along, let us see why people receive gnarly Jesus wounds together.

What Does the Bible Say About Stigmata?

Just like when we talked about Moloch, I decided to do some digging to see if there are any references to stigmata—be it directly or indirectly. Lucky for me, there were…


Yes, there are only two from what I can tell and only one appears to be rather direct. Ironically, it’s also the one that Wikipedia shares. The second one is a bit more vague can be interpreted a few ways. I digress though, here they are:

Galatians 6:17 (Final Appeal)

From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the mark of Jesus on my body.

In my eyes, this is fairly direct and would be indicative of having some sort of marking—though one can argue that it’s also perhaps a cross that Saint Paul was wearing. I guess it’s something we’ll never know.

As for the second reference, it goes as follows:

1 Peter 4:13

But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.

This seems more akin to understanding what Jesus went through and isn’t related directly to bearing the marks of stigmata. Though I guess some may disagree.

Whatever your stance is, that’s all I could find in the way of references to stigmata within the pages of the Holy Bible. If I missed any, I do apologize. Though with that out of the way, let’s get into the story itself.

The Story

The first thing I would like to mention is something that is extremely odd to me. While it’s generally believed that Jesus was crucified with nails through his wrists (so he wouldn’t fall off the cross since he was, you know, a fully grown human and all that), those who bear the mark of stigmata—known as stigmatics—are known to have their marks on their palms.

This is something that I’m guessing is because having gaping wounds on your wrists would likely result in you dying. However, I’m not a doctor and it’s possible Jesus really was crucified through his hands. Whatever the case may be, that’s something I wanted to quickly mention. Now onto the real fun.

So, as you may have extrapolated: the phenomenon known as stigmata is one in which people mysteriously receive marks where Jesus’ wounds were after he was crucified. A large wound on their palms, feet, and in some cases: a cross on their forehead. This appears to be in reference to the crown of thorns that Jesus wore, but I never recall it creating a cross-shape. Unless my understanding of the wound itself is wrong and there are people who flatout have thorn-size wounds around their head like they just had a crown of thorns placed on their head.

My insipid understanding of statements aside, some are also said to have wounds in their sides from the lance that was thrusted into Jesus’ side. This is one of a few injuries that I was never aware of until I skimmed over the Wikipedia article to remember the names of notable stigmatics (which we’ll get to later). In my entire life—having known about this phenomenon for over a decade—I’d never known that people had the lance-related wounds. I guess you learn something new every day.

In the continuing saga of strange happenings I wasn’t aware of until I went onto Wikipedia, some people are reported to cry tears of blood, sweat blood, or bear the marks of “scourging”. In simpler terms: being whipped on the back.

I would like to mention one thing related to crying tears of blood: that phenomenon appears to be really common when it comes to mysteries surrounding Biblical holy figures. I’ve heard stories about statues of the Virgin Mary crying tears of blood. I’d like to cover a few specific instances, but I find it strange that it’s so common. Even stranger—from the perspective of a Catholic at least—is that I know of no reference within the Bible to crying tears of blood.

Moving on though, the Wikipedia article fascinated me with things I didn’t know, so I might as well just list off the other things it states because most of this stuff was as unknown to me as the perks of not plucking out nose hairs (fun fact: you can get Meningitis that way). In some cases, stigmatics are said to have their wounds bleed after receiving Holy Communion—this is something that I believe is unique to the Catholic faith, but there are so many branches of Christianity that other sects may involve it. Given that many stigmatics are of the Catholic belief though, I would assume that this isn’t some sort of odd coincidence. The same goes for the citing that stigmatics apparently really desire Holy Communion. That’s likely a coincidence and I can almost guarantee it isn’t related to stigmata.

Seriously, if anyone who reads this blog frequently edits Wikipedia: there are some things that are so blatantly coincidental that you don’t need to mention it. While it’s hypocritical of me to state this when I myself constantly state insignificant details, Wikipedia is used by millions for various reasons. You need not bring up how people want Holy Communion when they have stigmata. It’s a coincidence; I know people who want it because it makes them feel closer with God and Jesus. The effect of stigmata likely imbues a sense of closeness on account of the wounds being similar to that of Jesus’ at the time of the crucifixion. Let’s please be realistic about this.

My rambling aside, some other factors come in the form of people being capable of fasting for long periods on end. No food. No water. Just Holy Communion and some holes in their hands, feet, and other random injuries elsewhere. Given that these people don’t eat, they lose weight and I have no idea if anyone has ever starved to death or died from dehydration because of this (well, specifically because of the urge thanks to stigmata). If anyone has, that’s extremely concerning and sure as heck doesn’t exactly scream “holy phenomenon”. Though more on this when we get to the theories section.

Rounding out the article on Wikipedia that enlightened me to no end is one of the strangest and most bizarre things I’ve ever read. Ignoring the part about “invisible stigmata” (in essence: people showcase no external injuries, yet claim to feel the agony of the wounds) or how some folks don’t have their wounds clot, there are reports that the blood from said wounds has a “pleasant, perfumed odor”. This has apparently become known as the “Odor of Sanctity”.

In my time writing on this blog, let alone reading about mysteries as a whole, I’ve never read something so mind boggling, weird, and just flat out… insane. Though hey, I guess there’s a first time for everything. Pleasant smelling blood. Alright, well, I guess it could be weirder. It could be blood that smells like cotton candy.

Anyways, one other key symptom/occurrence when stigmata forms (or occurs, I don’t exactly know what words to use) is that some witness the crucifixion itself in what I could only call a vision. Other visions include seeing Jesus, Satan, Saints, and/or deceased family members, and being handed a chalice to drink from. Some also claim they experienced a feeling akin to that of a sword being thrust through their chest (if I had to guess, this may be in reference to the spear that was thrust into Jesus’ side at the crucifixion).

This information—at least the part about witnessing the crucifixion (the parts about the chalice and sword I saw on Wikipedia and have no recollection of ever hearing about that anywhere)—I recall from a special I saw on I believe the National Geographic channel when I was young, but it stuck with me because I was something like 12 or 13 and it scarred me since is as a dumb child watching something where people said they randomly got sizable holes in their hands and feet. So all I could think was, “oh no, is this going to happen to me!?”

Probably not a brilliant idea to watch that on my part. Same with watching a special on Ebola around the same time. Oops.

Anyways, it’s claimed that most stigmatics are women (some claim that over 80% of them are female). I cannot verify that and the sources are sketchy at best, so make of that what you will. However, if the ratio is skewed to one gender, I find that to be quite puzzling. Alas, I cannot find anything theologically that puts forth anything in the way of women bearing wounds in their hands. Sorry, no Bible verses that dictate people having mean ole’ boo-boos.

Now onto the more interesting things: documented reports of stigmata. If you were to go to Wikipedia, you’d see a section labeled “notable stigmatics”. I mentioned this earlier and there are a whole three people mentioned. This is so laughably small, you could’ve nailed me to a cross and I’d still be laughing. 

The three stories listed there are of Saint Francis of Assisi (which I will conceded is a fascinating story that I’ll get to in a little bit), Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina (whose story is perhaps the most famous case of stigmata in the world), and Mariam Thresia Chiramel—whose entry is two sentences long.

Now if you want some actual effort put into Wikipedia, go to the category entitled “stigmatics”. We can’t have the actual page contain content, but our category section sure can! There are 55 stories listed there and they’re quite interesting.

I digress. Even when it comes to the categories list, there are far, far more stories about stigmata out there and maybe one day, I’ll do a follow-up where I compile a fair number of stories I can find. For now though, I’d like to briefly go over two stories of stigmata with you all before we get to the theories section. So let’s hop in and go over them!

The first is of St. Francis of Assisi. Per Thomas of Celano from “First Life of St. Francis”:

When the blessed servant of God saw these things he was filled with wonder, but he did not know what 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 what 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 perplexity 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 wrists and feet seemed to be pierced by nails, with the heads of the nails appearing on his wrists 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.[

Yeah, I figured I’d steal that from Wikipedia—and that I would also start off with the two that are mentioned on there.

In 1224, St. Francis of Assisi became the first person to be blessed/cursed/bestowed/some other word with what would become known as stigmata. It’s said that one morning, a six-winged angel appeared before him as he prayed. He continued to pray and, as the angel drew closer, he noticed something really surprising.

The angel was crucified.

Who exactly the angel was, I don’t know. It could have been Jesus, Saint Peter, or simply a Seraphim (who we’ll talk about at some point next year if I get the opportunity to do enough research on them). That said, what happened next is to be expected. An unfathomable level of elation filled Francis, followed swiftly a large deal of agony. Once the angel had left, Francis found that he had wounds similar to Jesus’. He had two in his hands, two on his feet, and a wound on his side akin to that of when Jesus was stabbed with the spear as he carried the cross. It’s also said that the image of nails appeared before him and that the wound on his side bled.

St. Francis’ story is one that could warrant its own write-up given he had gone on a journey for a forty-day-long fast, so by all accounts, he could have been suffering from delirium or something else and he didn’t realize he’d self-mutilated. Others say he may have had leprosy, However, I won’t linger too long on what may have caused this (same with later accounts as I don’t want to be here all day). Also, given the importance of this story from a theological aspect, I won’t run the risk of courting a few angry believers. I’m a believer too, guys, please don’t crucify me.

On one final note, it’s stated that in artistic depictions of this story, St. Francis is accompanied by someone else. I have no idea if that’s just artistic creativity being what it is or if in other accounts, he did go on the journey with someone else. If anyone knows, do inform me.

The second account that I’ll go over is of a Spanish lady from the 17th century (until her death in the 18th century). Mary of Jesus de León y Delgado was a woman with a fantastical array of claims surrounding her. It was said she was seen levitating in a monastery. Levitation is common with people who end up bearing the marks of stigmata, but others say that angelic presences (and demonic ones) can result in levitation.

Mary was also said to be within the presence of God Himself several times. This resulted in something called “ecstasy” (not to be confused with the drug). It’s also said that she experienced this even when she was dying.

One of the most interesting stories was that of bilocation. This is more or less when you are in one place, but people see you in another. So if you ever see me in, say, Sydney, Australia, it’s safe to say that I am somehow committing the act of bilocation.

Anyways, with that miracle: it’s said that Mary saved the life of a pirate named Amaro Rodriguez by appearing as he was being assaulted in Cuba as he was being assaulted. Exactly what she did and why Amaro was being attacked, I don’t know, but it’s certainly interesting and perhaps one day, we’ll look more into the story together.

There are other stories miracles involving Mary, including Hyperthermia (elevation of the body’s temperature—not to be confused with hypothermia), acts of clairvoyance (or, in other words, prophecy), and psychokinesis (moving objects with your thinker box/brain). However, the most remarkable and weirdest is how she was inflicted with stigmata. It’s said that a wound was found by her heart, as though she had been struck by a lance. What made it is unknown.

With that, the accounts of stigmata end and so too does the story itself. This has to be one of the weirdest and, in my personal opinion, scariest mysteries I’ve ever researched. Something about the nature of stigmata makes me deeply uneasy and at times, it also grosses me out. However, it’s also an extremely fascinating story and leaves me wondering exactly what the heck causes it. Lucky for us, there are some theories that could answer just that. So let’s go dive straight into them.


1. It’s a sign from God

May I just say that there’s something rather amusing about a really religious person playing their Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 happily when all of sudden, they see a chalice in front of them filled with Mountain Dew or Coca-Cola. They take a sip, feel excruciating pain, and then they’re bleeding from their hands and feet; their controller is caked in gore, and they just shrug and go back to playing Fortnite or something.

“Yo, guys, I’m totally bleeding!”

“That’s nice, now rush b, blyat.”

Wait, that’s a PC game.

Anyways, the first theory is that it’s a sign from God. Given the general heavy religiousness of those who receive stigmata, it stands to reason that the people who bear the mark would likely have received it from a Holy figure.

At the same time, one has to wonder exactly why some of these people also claim to have seen Satan. You know, the Fallen Angel. The fellow in Hell. That guy. Satan. Really not a good guy if you think about it, y’know? So it’d be strange to see him, get these wounds, then be like, “Lawd above, it’s a sign! Hallelujah!” Hey, I’m starting to know how to spell that word.

Anywhoozle, at the same time, there are an array of miracles that are supposedly connected to stigmata. Levitation, visions, and fasting for extreme periods of time. It’s all really odd and something you wouldn’t think could be done, but it’s apparently done. Now granted, skeptics may chalk it up to overeating, then vomiting, or something else. However, if you’re an ardent believer, such explanations are likely not going to sway you. What’s set in stone isn’t likely going to move. So… yeah. Shall we move on?

2. It’s tomfoolery

Tomfoolery? Tomfoolery. I love that word.

It’d be hard to not find someone who hears stories of stigmata and doesn’t think, “Well, that sounds like the most ridiculous, insane, and preposterous thing ever”. Heck, in many ways, I think that when I hear them. The only thing that holds me back from embracing it is I can’t realistically think of an explanation as to how it’s being done.

The one thing you may immediately think is that this is self-inflicted for attention or some odd attempt to become closer to God. People do some weird things in order to feel closer to really anyone, whether it be radically changing their lifestyle to appease someone they have a crush on or in order to feel closer to their religious figure[s].

With stigmata, one could argue that those who bear the markings of it self-harmed in order to become more in tune with Jesus. While this may seem really hard to believe in the eyes of some, I would like to remind you that cults exist and that people do really insane things in order to feel like the best possible member possible. This sort of insane behavior extends into the fields of religion, general friendships, and trying to impress a boy or a girl by doing something so outlandishly stupid that you’re likely to get yourself killed.

No guys, jumping across the Grand Canyon will not make girls like it. It’ll help with my investment in funeral homes though.

Moving on though: others posit that the injuries may be unintentionally inflicted thanks to things like post-traumatic stress. Speaking as someone who has done some really stupid things during moments of extreme stress, trauma, and general mental unhealthiness, it stands to reason that anyone suffering from some sort of mental illness may unfortunately hurt themselves, even if they don’t fully realize it.

Some also put forth the idea that painful bruising syndrome could be the culprit. This is something that women tend to suffer from as they get older and would help to explain the skewed ratio of about 8:1 from times of yore.

However, some counter these theories with the various mentions of miracles that some of the people performed, the incredible recoveries from supposedly impossible-to-cure illnesses, and other aspects related to faith. Given how powerful faith is when it comes to humanity, debunking these is something that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot-long pole. I would recommend you read into the stories I mentioned before the theories began and you can draw your own conclusions.

My Take

Man oh man, stigmata is a mystery that I have had trouble coming to a conclusion on for a very, very long time. Even now, as I type this, I really don’t know where I stand on it.

On one hand, I think that some stories can very easily be passed off as stress-related, self-mutilation, and/or attention seeking. While some may think that’s heretical, ignorant, or something else, I doubt that every story of stigmata is legitimate. We’re talking about something that could very easily be explained by someone clawing at their skin and creating messy injury. Heck, they could just crucify themselves or have someone do it for them. It isn’t exactly too difficult to create something that could be seen as stigmata. That ease, coupled with making sure the wound doesn’t heal, wouldn’t exactly be the most difficult thing to achieve.

At the same time, I cannot fathom why there’d be so many people who would be willing to do something so extreme—and with such similar achievements. I also cannot explain why there would be little to no pain in some cases (seriously, how on Earth anyone could thrust a spear into their body and not be doubled over in agony?), the tears of blood, and the Odor of Sanctity.

Because of that, stigmata is something I really can’t come to a conclusion on. It’s very possible—heck, plausible—that some of the reports are just people mutilating themselves for some inexplicable reason. That, in my eyes, is almost certain. However, in other instances, I genuinely cannot come to a conclusion. I’ve tried and tried to think of answers and counter arguments towards those who both believe and are skeptical in the nature of stigmata. Everything just comes up blank.

I guess, at the end of the day, it’s a mystery that’s very reliant on your religious beliefs. If you’re an Atheist, then stigmata is likely going to look and sound like a load of nonsensical garbage. If you’re a Christian (or Buddhist—some Buddhist art features what’s known as “Buddhist stigmata”), then you’re likely to see the phenomenon as a miracle from Heaven and God Himself.

Though that isn’t the case for everyone. Still, if you’d like to share your thoughts on this mystery, I would love to know where you guys stand. Especially given how close it is to some. Who knows, maybe one of my readers has it.


May God bless you all. Have a wonderful day and remain safe and healthy.

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