Skip to main content

Stigmata Explanations

More Information: Definition Mystical Stigmata Stigmata Picture Gallery Explanations Facts

St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio) with Stigmata

The facts having been set forth, it remains to state the explanations that have been offered. Some physiologists, both Catholics and Free-thinkers, have maintained that the wounds might be produced in a purely natural manner by the sole action of the imagination coupled with lively emotions. The person being keenly impressed by the sufferings of the Saviour and penetrated by a great love, this preoccupation acts on her or him physically, reproducing the wounds of Christ. This would in no wise diminish his or her merit in accepting the trial, but the immediate cause of the phenomena would not be supernatural.

We shall not attempt to solve this question. Physiological science does not appear to be far enough advanced to admit a definite solution, and the writer of this article adopts the intermediate position, which seems to him unassailable, that of showing that the arguments in favour of natural explanations are illusory. They are sometimes arbitrary hypotheses, being equivalent to mere assertions, sometimes arguments based exaggerated or misinterpreted facts. But if the progress of medical sciences and psycho-physiology should present serious objections, it must be remembered that neither religion or mysticism is dependent on the solution of these questions, and that in processes of canonization stigmata do not count as incontestable miracles.

No one has ever claimed that imagination could produce wounds in a normal subject; it is true that this faculty can act slightly on the body, as Benedict XIV said, it may accelerate or retard the nerve-currents, but there is no instance of its action on the tissues (De canoniz., III, xxxiii, n. 31). But with regard to persons in an abnormal condition, such as ecstasy or hypnosis, the question is more difficult; and, despite numerous attempts, hypnotism has not produced very clear results. At most, and in exceedingly rare cases, it has induced exudations or a sweat more or less coloured, but this is a very imperfect imitation. Moreover, no explanation has been offered of three circumstances presented by the stigmata of the saints:

Physicians do not succeed in curing these wounds with remedies. On the other hand, unlike natural wounds of a certain duration, those of stigmatics do not give forth a fetid odour. To this there is known but one exception: St. Rita of Cassia had received on her brow a supernatural wound produced by a thorn detached from the crown of the crucifix. Though this emitted an unbearable odour, there was never any suppuration or morbid alteration of the tissues. Sometimes these wounds give forth perfumes, for example those of Juana of the Cross, Franciscan prioress of Toledo, and Bl. Lucy of Narni. To sum up, there is only one means of proving scientifically that the imagination, that is auto-suggestion, may produce stigmata: instead of hypothesis, analogous facts in the natural order must be produced, namely wounds produced apart from a religious idea. This had not been done.

St. Catherine of Siena with Stigmata

It has often been proved by the microscope that the red liquid which oozes forth is not blood; its colour is due to a particular substance, and it does not proceed from a wound, but is due, like sweat, to a dilatation of the pores of the skin. But it may be objected that we unduly minimize the power of the imagination, since, joined to an emotion, it can produce sweat; and as the mere idea of having an acid bon-bon in the mouth produces abundant saliva, so, too, the nerves acted upon by the imagination might produce the emission of a liquid and this liquid might be blood. The answer is that in the instances mentioned there are glands (sudoriparous and salivary) which in the normal state emit a special liquid, and it is easy to understand that the imagination may bring about this secretion; but the nerves adjacent to the skin do not terminate in a gland emitting blood, and without such an organ they are powerless to produce the effects in question. What has been said of the stigmatic wounds applies also to the sufferings. There is not a single experimental proof that imagination could produce them, especially in violent forms.

Another explanation of these phenomena is that the patients produce the wounds either fraudulently or during attacks of somnambulism, unconsciously. But physicians have always taken measures to avoid these sources of error, proceeding with great strictness, particularly in modern times. Sometimes the patient has been watched night and day, sometimes the limbs have been enveloped in sealed bandages. Mr. Pierre Janet placed on one foot of a stigmatic a copper shoe with a window in it through which the development of the wound might be watched, while it was impossible for anyone to touch it (op. cit. supra).

More Information: Definition Mystical Stigmata Stigmata Picture Gallery Explanations Facts

Browse Saints by Alphabet

Search Saints:


Patron Saints by Alphabet


Browse Saints by Category


Saint of the Day: St. Apollonius the Apologist

St. Apollonius the Apologist

Martyr whose Apologia, or defense of the faith, is considered one of the most priceless documents of the early Church. Apollonius was a Roman senator who was denounced as a Christian by one of his slaves. The Praetorian Prefect, Sextus Tigidius Perennis, arrested him, also putting the slave to death as an informer. Perennis demanded that Apollonius denounce the ... continue reading



Saint Calendar
Saint Feast Days
Saint Fun Facts

St. Rita

St. Rita

St. Rita was born at Spoleto, Italy in 1381. At an early age, she begged her parents to allow her to enter a convent. Instead they arranged a marriage for her. Rita became a good wife and mother, but her husband was a man of violent temper. In anger he often mistreated his wife. He taught their children his own evil ways. Rita tried to perform her duties ... continue reading


Saint Feast Days by Month


St. Gabriel, the Archangel

St. Gabriel, the Archangel

The name Gabriel means "man of God," or "God has shown himself mighty." It appears first in the prophesies of Daniel in the Old Testament. The angel announced to Daniel the prophecy of the seventy weeks. His name also occurs in the apocryphal book of Henoch. He was the angel who appeared to Zachariah to announce the birth of St. John the Baptizer. Finally, he ... continue reading



What's New

What's New in Saints

Catholic Online has updated its Saints page with thousands of new entries and updates! An ideal place to find everything you want to know about the saints. Whether you have a special devotion, an academic interest, or even just casual curiosity, this page is all you need.


Saint Joseph's love for Jesus is worth of commemoration.
Is St. Joseph worthy of commemoration?

Today is the feast day of St. Joseph, which means this is the perfect time to check out our offerings of St. Joseph medals, prayer cards ... continue reading

Duc in Altum: Men, Put Out Into the Deep on the Feast of St Joseph

This model of Christian manliness recommends himself to us not for any strange or exciting things he did (because he really didn't) but ... continue reading




Find Saints

Catholic Online offers the largest searchable database of Catholic Saints on the internet.

Browse Saints
by Alphabet
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Patron Saints
by Alphabet
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Newsletter Sign Up

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Isaiah 52:13--53:12
Look, my servant will prosper, will grow great, will rise to ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25
turn your ear to me, make haste. Be for me a rock-fastness, a ... Read More

Gospel, John 18:1--19:42
After he had said all this, Jesus left with his disciples and ... Read More

Reading 2, Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
Since in Jesus, the Son of God, we have the supreme high priest ... Read More

Saint of the Day

April 18 Saint of the Day

St. Apollonius the Apologist
April 18: Martyr whose Apologia, or defense of the faith, is considered ... Read More