The stigmata is the wounds of Jesus inflicted by God upon the body of the saint-mystic-victim soul. They consist of the five wounds of Jesus which are the nail wounds in the hands and feet, along with the wound in the side, next to the heart. They can be either visible or invisible. The main purpose of the stigmata is so the saint may suffer in union with Jesus for the conversion of sinners, that is, for the redemption of humanity. Those who bear the stigmata are then “co-redeemers” with Christ, as they, with their limited human capabilities, share in His sufferings and participate in a special way in His Redemption. Simply put, victim souls make reparation for sin and do penance for all those who don't. And through their sufferings in union with Jesus they lead souls to God, by obtaining the graces that certain souls need to turn to God. They participate in and live the Passion of Jesus in their body and souls, for the conversion of sinners.
For the Apostle St Paul says in his letter to the Colossians “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's sufferings for the sake of his body, that is, the church."(Colossians 1:24).
While St Francis of Assisi is commonly believed to be the first Saint to have been given the stigmata (on September 14, 1224), there are some scripture scholars who believe that St Paul himself may have been the first to have borne it, for in Galations 6:17 Paul himself states: "From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus."
And furthermore, in the Acts of the Apostles we read: "...And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them." (Acts 19:11)
It is suggested that these hankerchiefs were blood soaked from the wounds of Paul's stigmata. As most Catholics know, many in the church follow this practice today with the veneration of the relics of the Saints.
A modern case of the Stigmata
Certainly a very recent and probaly one of the best documented cases of the stigmata would be that of the Italian Saint Gemma Galgani (1878-1903) who also happens to be this writers favorite Saint! Gemma was an extraordinary saint who loved Jesus with all her heart and soul. At an early age she had an remarkable piety, and Jesus began giving her interior locutution at age 7. At age 20 she was miraculously cured of spinal meningitis through the heavenly intercession of another saint- Gabriel Possenti C.P.(who at that time was declared Venerable) who miraculously appeared to Gemma each night and encouraged her to make a Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. One year later she was given the stigmata by Jesus in the prescence of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her guardian Angel
One day after Holy Communion, shortly after her miraculous cure, Jesus said to her: "Courage Gemma! I await you on Calvary on the Mount that I shall show you!"
The suffering through which she had passed during her illness had purified her soul, and the hour was approaching in which she would realize the nature of her vocation. It was June 8th, 1899, the vigil of the Feast of the Sacred Heart. That morning after Holy Communion Jesus revealed to her that in the evening of that day He would give her an extraordinary grace. She went at once to tell her confessor, and then confession to receive absolution, that she might be prepared as much as possible for what Jesus was to do next. Then, with her soul flooded with a wonderful sense of peace and joy, she returned home.
Gemma herself will relate what happened on this night:
"It was Thursday evening, the vigil of the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Suddenly, more quickly indeed than usual, I felt a piercing sorrow for my sins; but so intense that I have never since experienced the like again. The sorrow was so great that I thought I must die. After that I felt all the powers of my soul in recollection. My intellect knew nothing except my sins and offences against God; my memory recalled each one, and made me see all the torments Jesus had endured to save me. My will moved me to detest them and be willing to suffer anything in expiation. A world of thoughts surged through my mind; thoughts of sorrow, love, fear, hope and encouragement.
"This was quickly followed by a rapture, and I found myself in the presence of my heavenly Mother, with my guardian angel on her right. He commanded me to make an act of contrition, and when I had done so my Mom said to me: 'Daughter, in the name of Jesus I forgive you all your sins,' and added, 'Jesus, my Son, loves you very much, and wishes to give you a grace. Would you know how to become worthy of it?'
In my misery I knew not what to answer. Then She continued: 'I will be a mother to you; will you show yourself a true daughter?' And after saying this She opened her mantle and covered me with it. At that instant Jesus appeared with all His wounds open; but blood no longer issued from those wounds, but flames of fire. In an instant those flames came and touched my hands, feet and heart. I felt I was dying and should have fallen had not my Mom held me up, I remaining all the while covered with her mantle, and thus I remained for several hours. Afterwards my Mom kissed me on the forehead, then everything vanished and I found myself kneeling on the ground, but still feeling intense pain in my hands, feet and heart. I got up to go to bed and saw blood flowing from those places where I felt the pain. I covered them up as best I could and then, with the help of my guardian angel, got into bed." [From the "Autobiography of St Gemma Galgani"]
This event took place on the first floor of a house numbered thirteen in the Via del Biscione in the parish of S. Pietro Somaldi, where Gemma was living with her family. "We point to this house with singular affection," writes her confessor, Venerable Father Germano, "because we believe one day it will be as memorable as La Verna, where St. Francis received the Stigmata."
The following morning Gemma arose early and, despite the intense pain she was enduring, went to church as usual to receive Holy Communion, putting on gloves to hide the wounds in her hands. She came home perplexed. How could she conceal what had happened to her? But perhaps it was nothing exceptional, but a gift bestowed by God on all who had consecrated themselves by vow to Him. What should she do? Finally she went to her aunt and said: "Aunt, just look at what Jesus has done to me!"
The aunt, although she had for some time felt there was something quite exceptional about Gemma, looked at her in amazement, and could not make out what had happened.
"The phenomenon always began in the way Gemma has herself described, and there is little to add to her account of it," says Ven. Father Germano, who further writes in his "Life of St Gemma Galgani": "...From that day it continued to repeat itself, on the same day and hour of each week, that is, from Thursday evening towards eight o'clock and continued till three o'clock on Friday afternoon. No preparation preceded it, no sense of pain or impression of any sort in those parts of the body announced that it was imminent, except the recollection of spirit which preceded the ecstasy.
"Scarcely had this begun when suddenly red marks appeared on the backs and palms of both hands, and under the epidermis a rent in the flesh opened by degrees, oblong on the back of the hands and irregularly round in the palms. A little after and the membrane itself was pierced, and on those innocent hands the flesh wounds were seen, about half an inch in diameter in the palms, and on the back of the hands about five-eighths of an inch long by one-eighth of an inch wide. [Here Ven. Father Germano remarks: "I greatly marvelled at the crescent form of this opening so unusual in other stigmatics until I read the life of the Venerable Diomira of Florence, who had a wound similar to that of Gemma, according to the sworn testimony of medical men, and other eye-witnesses."]
"Sometimes the laceration appeared only on the surface; at others it was scarcely perceptible to the naked eye, but more often was very deep, and ap¬peared to pass through the hand, the openings on both sides touching each other. I say seemed to pass, because these openings were full of blood, partly flowing and partly congealed and when the flow of blood ceased, they closed immediately .... In her feet, besides the wounds being large and livid around the edges, the size of the opening was the reverse of that of the hands, that is larger on the instep and smaller on the sole of the foot. Moreover, the wound on the instep of the right foot was as large as that on the sole of the left. Thus it would have been with our Saviour if both His feet had been fastened to the Cross by a single nail…
"Now we come to the wound in Gemma's side. It had the form of a half-moon in a horizontal direction, with the two ends turned upwards. Its length in a straight line was quite two inches, its width at the centre a quarter of an inch."
"The flow of blood from this wound was so abundant that her underclothing was saturated by it. The humble virgin did what she could to hide it by using manifold linen cloths, which she repeatedly applied to her side; in less than an hour they were saturated, and she hastened to conceal them so as to wash them in secret.'
Gemma herself describes her experience on one occasion thus: "This morning. . . I felt my senses leaving me. To the pain at my heart was added an acute anguish in all my members. Before all and above all was my sorrow for sin. What excruciating pain! Had it been greater I would have died, and I can say the same of the wound which I received. My heart could no longer bear the restraint, and began to send forth blood in abundance."
One of those who lived with Gemma declared upon oath that the blood from her side alone, unless it had been stopped, would have flowed down to the ground. The same can be said of the wounds in her hands and feet. Her spiritual director, Father Germano continues: "The blood was fresh, of a rich colour, such as flows from a newly opened wound, and so it remained, even after it had dried upon the skin, the clothing and the floor."
"The disappearance of the wounds was no less remarkable, for as soon as the ecstasy on Friday was over the flow of blood from all five wounds ceased, the raw flesh healed, and by the following day, or at latest by Sunday, not a trace of those wounds remained. Only the places where the wounds had been showed a whitish colour which indicated where they had been the day before." [From the "Life of St Gemma Galgani" by Venerable Father Germano, C.P.
These supernatural manifestations continued every Thursday and Friday, until prohibited by her directors, and after her death, although the stigmata had ceased for two years, these white marks were distinctly visible, especially upon her feet.
More notes on the stigmata in the lives of the Mystics of the Church:
Throughout the history of the Church there have been some souls who have received the invisible or "hidden" stigmata, and even moreso there have been numerous stigmatics who initially received the stigmata in a visible form, but in their great humility they asked God that it might become invisible (hidden), which at their request God granted in all the cases that I have read.
Additionally, most stigmatics do not have a permanent stigmata; for most the stigmata normally appears on Thursday evenings, and disappears on Friday afternoons, only to reappear again the following Thurday, although some, like St Padre Pio for example, bore the stigmata permanently (meaning he had the stigmata all the time--and in his case, it was 50 years and 3 days, until his holy death on September 23, 1968)
The invisible (or hidden) stigmata can be just as painful, or even more painful than the visible stigmata. In fact, the physical bleeding of the stigmata often seems to lessen the pain, so that for most visible stigmatics, the time prior to when the wounds completely open (on Thursday evenings) is most painful...then once the wounds open and the blood begins to flow, the pain often lessens somewhat.
Click here for more information about the stigmata of St Gemma with detailed descriptions from several eyewitnesses.