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The wounds, marks or pains of Christian devotees or mystics that are said to correspond to wounds of Jesus Christ when he was crucified. These are usually in the hands and feet, side of the body, and the head.

The earliest stigmatists were Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) and an Englishman who is reported to have the crucifixion wounds in 1222. There are no known stigmatists prior to this period. Since then, there have been more than 300 persons who have exhibited stigmata, some of whom have been beatified or made saints by the Catholic Church, such as Catherine of Siena and Catherine of Genoa. In the 20th century, the most well-known stigmatists were Padre Pio of Italy and Therese Neumann of Germany. Catholic tradition distinguishes between visible stigmata and invisible stigmata. The latter does not have physical manifestations except for the pain.

Since the appearance of stigmatic phenomena, both believers and skeptics have inquired into the cause of these wounds. The former take them to be a sign of divine intervention, while the skeptics would consider them as products of the human mind.

There can be no doubt that the human mind can have a pronounced effect on the body. Under hypnosis a subject told he was to be touched with a red hot iron exhibited a burn blister on his arm within a few minutes even though he was actually touched with a piece of ice. The cure of warts under hypnosis is well-documented.

The Roman Catholic Church concedes that stigmatization can occur on sinners and pagans because it is a freely bestowed gift and it is not taken as proof of sanctity. Of the over 300 recorded stigmatized persons no more than about 60 were saints or beatified.

A telling case that can be made against stigmatization being something conferred on a devout person by God and not merely the result a psychosomatic process is the fact that the wounds appear on the hands whereas, according to historical research, the Romans actually hammered the nails through the wrist as the palm would not withstand the weight of a body hanging on a cross.


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