Stigmata are bodily marks resembling the wounds suffered by Jesus Christ when he was crucified. They are manifested on the hands, on the feet, near the heart, and on the head and shoulders. The stigmata are not usual bodily lacerations, do not deteriorate in the usual fashion of wounds, and are not susceptible to medical treatment. During the traditional times of commemoration of Christ's passion--Fridays, Lent, and especially Good Friday--bodily bleeding may occur.
More than 330 cases are known of Christians who have been stigmatized. In many cases stigmatization can be explained by natural causes such as the physical and psychic conditions of the person, along with a strong interest in and devotion to the sufferings of Christ. In a number of cases, however, stigmatization has been accepted by the Roman Catholic church as attributable only to supernatural causes; 60 stigmatics whose lives have been marked by great holiness and mystical experiences have been either canonized or beatified. Francis of Assisi was the first and best-known saint to receive stigmata.
Joan A. Range
Bibliography: Biot, Rene, The Enigma of the Stigmata, trans. by T. J. Hepburne-Scott (1962); Thurston, Herbert, The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism (1952).
The revival of religious life and the zealous activity of St. Bernard and St. Francis in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, together with the enthusiasm of the Crusaders returning from the Holy Land, gave a wonderful impulse to devotion to the Passion of Jesus Christ and particularly to practices in honour of the Wounds in His Sacred Hands, Feet, and Side. The reason for this devotion was well expressed at a later period in the memorial of the Polish bishops to Clement XIII:
"Moreover, the Five Wounds of Christ are honoured by a Mass and an Office, and on account of these wounds we venerate also the feet, hands and side of the most loving Redeemer, these parts of Our Lord's most holy body being held more worthy of a special cult than the others, precisely because they suffered special pains for our salvation, and because they are decorated with these wounds as with an illustrious mark of love. Therefore, with living faith they cannot be looked upon without a special feeling of religion and devotion" (Nilles, "De rat. fest. SS. Cord. Jesu et Mariae", I, 126).
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The Dominican Rosary also helped to promote devotion to the Sacred Wounds, for while the fifty small beads refer to Mary, the five large beads and the corresponding Pater Nosters are intended to honour the Five Wounds of Christ (Beissel, "Verehrung Marias", I, 525). Again, in some places it was customary to ring a bell at noon on Fridays, to remind the faithful to recite five Paters and Aves in honour of the Holy Wounds. A corona, or rosary, of the Five Wounds was approved by the Holy See on 11 August, 1823, and again in 1851. It consists of five divisions, each composed of five Glories in honour of Christ's Wounds and one Ave in commemoration of the Sorrowful Mother. The blessing of the beads is reserved to the Passionists.
The earliest evidence of a feast in honour of the Wounds of Christ comes from the monastery of Fritzlar, Thuringia, where in the fourteenth century a feast was kept on the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi. The Office was rhythmical (Dreves, "Anal. hymnica", XXIV, 20; Grotefend, "Zeitrechnung", II, 1, 115). In the fifteenth century it had spread to different countries, to Salisbury (England), Huesca and Jaca (Spain), Vienna, and Tours, and was included in the Breviaries of the Carmelites, Franciscans, Dominicans, and other orders (Dreves, op. cit., XXIV, XL, XLII). The Feast of the Five Wounds, celebrated since the Middle Ages at Evora and elsewhere in Portugal on 6 February (at Lisbon on the Friday after Ash-Wednesday) is of historical interest. It commemorates the founding of the Portuguese kingdom in 1139, when, before the battle on the plains of Ourique, Christ appeared to Alfonso Henriquez, promising victory over the Moors and commanding him to insert into the coat of arms of the new kingdom the emblem of the Five Wounds ("Propr. Portugalliae" in Weiss, "Weltgeschichte", III, 251). This feast is celebrated today in all Portuguese-speaking countries. The Proprium of Venice of 1766, which contains perhaps the earliest series of movable feasts in honour of Christ's Passion, has the Feast of the Five Wounds on the second Sunday in March; it was granted in 1809 to Leghorn for the Friday after Ash-Wednesday, on which day it is still kept in many dioceses of Tuscany, and elsewhere (Mexico). Since 1831, when the feasts in honour of the Passion were adopted at Rome by the Passionists and the city, this feast was assigned to the Friday after the third Sunday in Lent. The Office is one of those bequeathed to us by the Middle Ages. As this feast is not celebrated in the entire Church the Office and Mass are placed in the appendix of the Breviary and the Missal.
Publication information Written by F.G. Holweck. Transcribed by Michael T. Barrett. Dedicated to the Passion of Our Lord The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
NILLES, Kalendarium manuale, II, 140; HELLER in Zeitschr. fur kath. Theol. (1895), 582-5; BENEDICT XIV, De festus D. N. J. Christi, I, 279; BERINGER, Die Ablasse (Paderborn, 1906), 173, 174, 277, 382.
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