Stigmatization (Gr. στίγμα, a masrk), is an ecclesiastical term for the formation of wounds resembling those received by our Lord during his passion. The subject involves the consideration of three questions:
1. Were such alleged wounds actual or mythical? 2. How did they originate? 3. How much worth or dignity is to be conceded to them?
Stigmatization was not mentioned prior to the 13th century, and has rarely been heard of in connection with persons beyond the pale of the Roman Catholic Church. The earliest instance was the case of Francis of Assisi (q.v.), who, in 1224, had a vision of a seraph with six wings, between which appeared the image of a crucified one; and on recovering consciousness found himself marked with the wounds of crucifixion in his hands, feet, and right side. The case was attested by Thomas a Celano and Bonaventura, and, though discredited by the Dominicans generally and denounced by the bishop of Olmutz, was honored with an attempted authentication by the popes of that period Gregory IX and Alexander IV, the latter claiming to have himself seen the marks of the wounds. Other instances, to the number of eighty, occur in the traditions of the Romish Church, though the stigmatization in some of them is but partial; showing, e.g., only the marks of the crown of thorns, or of the spear thrust. The Capuchin nun Veronica Giuliani, who died in 1727 at Citta di Castello, was canonized as the last person who bore these marks, in 1831. But instances have occurred within our own time, which are attested by thousands of witnesses who speak from direct observation, among them persons deserving of belief. Anna Catharine Emmerich, a nun of Dulmen, experienced full stigmatization in her body, after long previous illness, in 1811. Her wounds became very painful in consequence of repeated examinations by the authorities; and she prayed that they might be closed, which accordingly came to pass in 1819, though the wounds were always red and emitted blood on Friday. The case of Maria von Morl, at Kaltern, in Southern Tyrol, was similar. In 1833, when in her twenty-second year, and after previous illness, the stigmata appeared on her hands, feet, and side, and always bled on Thursday night and Friday. More than forty thousand visitors were attracted to Kaltern by the fame of this case. Maria eventually retired into the Franciscan convent at Kaltern. Still other instances were those of Crescentia Steinklutsch, at Tscherms, and of Maria Domenica Lazzari, of Capriani. The latter bore the marks of Christ's passion on her forehead hands, feet, and side from 1834 until 1850 and endured from them the most terrible physical pain. A Protestant girl in Saxony, said to have been magnetized, is reported to have borne similar marks, though only for a time and during the progress of a severe sickness, in the course of which she apparently died on Good Friday, 1820, and revived again on the following Easter day.
Although many of the cases of stigmatization are not well attested, it is yet certain that cases have actually occurred; and it becomes important to account for them. The popes attributed the case of St. Francis directly to "the special and wonderful favor vouchsafed to him in Christ." A better explanation unquestionably is obtained when we reflect how many and strong are the formative powers of the soul which the imagination may control, and how remarkable are the results sometimes caused by the action of the imagination upon the body. Certain Roman Catholic writers, e.g. Jacobus de Voragine (13th century), Petrarch, Cornelius Agrippa, etc., ascribed the stigmatization of St. Francis to his glowing fancy; and the fact of an excited imagination usually connected with an enfeebled body the effect of sickness or of religious mortifications may be demonstrated in every instance of the phenomenon in question which has been properly authenticated. The question of the importance to be attached to such phenomena consequently becomes easy of solution. Stigmatization seems only to have occurred where the subject had earnestly and decisively turned away from the world and its pleasures, and had embraced the Savior in the fervor of a glowing love; but it was, nevertheless, not an endowment conferred by God. As a phenomenon, permitted rather than caused by him, it must be regarded rather as a negative than a positive effect of his divine working.
See Malan, Hist. de S. Fr. d'Assise (Paris, 1841; in German, Munich, 1844); Bitteres Leiden unseres Herrn Jesu Christi nach den Betracht. der A. Kath. Emmerich (8th ed. Munich, 1852); Ennemoser, Der Magnetismus in Verhältn. z. Natur u. Religion (2d ed. Stuttg. and Tüb. 1853). § 92-95, 131-142. Gorres, Christl. Mystik, 2, 410-456, 494-510. The two works last named afford important aid in explaining the phenomenon of stigmatization. See also Hengstenberg, Evang. Kirchenzeitung, 1835, p. 180-201, 345-390, and an instructive essay by Tholuck, in Vermischte Schriften, 1, 97-133. On the importance and meaning of stigmatization, see; Von Meyer, Blätter fur hohere Wahrheit, 7, 211-227.