Stigmata is a supernatural occurrence in which a person bears all or some of the wounds of Christ in his own body. It includes areas of the feet, hands, side, and forehead.
The wounds appear suddenly and from no external force, like a sharp object. Blood may flow periodically from the wounds. No one is required to believe in stigmata, yet it remains a special sign of a unique relationship with Jesus’ passion. There are over 320 cases of stigmatists, and out of this number, sixty have been canonized.
Saint Francis of Assisi is the first and best-known person who spiritually endured the five wounds of Christ. During prayer in 1224, an angel offered him an image of Jesus, crucified, and imprinted upon him the sacred stigmata. Blood regularly flowed from his wounds until his death.
When the Church researches to see if an instance of stigmata is authentic, one of the signs is humility. If the person who has the wounds tries to conceal them so that it is not central to his piety, this is one of the signs of authenticity. Saint Francis never boasted about the spiritual phenomena. Other proofs of authenticity include blood flowing from the wounds not from sweat or from hysteria; blood and the pain of the wounds more prevalent on the days or seasons associated with Jesus’ passion, like Good Friday; the wounds do not get infected; and the wounds do not need any medical treatment.
Saint Rita of Cassia is another great example. She was a married woman who became a widow and lost her sons to illness. She had always wanted to be a nun. She prayed constantly about it, but no convent would take her. Finally, during the middle of the night, she found herself in the middle of an Augustinian convent in Cassia.
When the sisters woke the next morning and saw her, they accepted her presence as a sign from God, and she was allowed to take her vows. Shortly after final vows, she received the wound of the crown of thorns. It bled constantly. Because of its hideousness, Rita was consigned to her room. At that time, the pope called for a Holy Year of Jubilation. Pilgrims traveled to Rome to pray at the basilicas and holy sites. Saint Rita was granted permission to lead the pilgrimage; for that short time the wound ceased. Only when she returned to the convent did the wound reappear.
Saint Pio of Pietralcina is a present-day stigmatist. He died in 1968 and suffered from the five wounds of Christ for forty years. Every time he celebrated Mass, the wounds bled more profusely. In order not to cause attention to himself, he wore gloves.