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St. Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata, 13th Century

Stigmatization (from the Greek στίγμα stigma , German 'stitch, stigma, sign' ; Latin for 'brand') describes the appearance of wounds on the body of a living person, which are interpreted as wounds of Christ based on a specific religious attitude . The corresponding times are referred to as stigmata (singular: stigma ), people who are stigmatized are referred to as stigmatized .


Stigmatization encompasses various forms of the appearance of wounds, which are interpreted as marks of Christ based on a specific religious attitude. On the one hand, there are reports of physically occurring stigmata that can be perceived by third parties; on the other hand, there are supposed to be forms in which pain occurs which is not perceptible to third parties. The relevant literature differentiates between various formal forms of stigmatization:

  • the imitative, in which more or less all the wounds of Jesus inflicted during the traditional crucifixion should appear,
  • the figurative, in which the stigmata would take the form of the cross, the so-called Sacred Heart of Jesus or something similar,
  • the epigraphic, in which letters should appear as marks through wounds or pain,
  • the ring-shaped, whose appearance stands for the "mystical marriage with Christ".

The times that occur are considered untreatable, should be aseptic and should not lead to wound infection. Mostly they are supposed to bleed periodically in times that are liturgically connected with the Passion.

Conceptual basis

In ancient times , στίγμα was used to designate a mark or a tattoo that served as jewelry or as a sign of tribal affiliation. In the case of animals, prisoners and slaves, a stigma marked the ownership structure. After fleeing or for other offenses, slaves could be punished with stigmata as a form of branding . In the context of the Greek religion, stigmata testified to belonging to a temple service and the consecration of the wearer to a certain deity.

Stigmatization is unknown in the Old as well as in the New Testament.

  • A “memorial mark” in Hebrew has a positive connotation in the Torah טוֹטָפֹת ṭoṭafot , which is attached to the hand and head and is intended to remind of belonging to Judaism ( Ex 13.16  EU ). This is probably not a tattoo, but a kind of piece of jewelry, such as a headband, pendant, diadem. Traditional Jewish interpretation interprets ṭoṭafot as tefillin .
  • No incisions should be made on the body for a dead person or signs should be scratched ( Lev 19.28  EU ).
  • Deutero-Isaiah prophesied ( Isa 44,5  EU ) that people will join the church of Israel and express this by e.g. B. add a new name or write “For YHWH” on her hand, Claus Westermann comments: “Just as in antiquity the slave carved his master's name into his hand”.
  • In eschatological context, a letter Taw written on the forehead of Ezekiel is mentioned ( Ez 9.4  EU ), in the Septuagint there is generally talk of a "sign" on the forehead. The Revelation of John in the New Testament takes up the motif ( Rev 13 : 16-17  EU ).
  • Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians : “In the future nobody should cause me trouble! Because I carry the marks ( στίγματα stígmata ) of Jesus on my body. ”( Gal 6:17  ZB ), although it is uncertain how Paul meant this remark. The authoritative dictionary of New Testament Greek gives for στίγμα the word meanings "Brandmal, Malzeichen" and explains Gal 6,17: "Pls probably plays on the scars and the like. Wounds on, d. he got himself in the service of Jesus. ”Some exegetes think of a tattoo, a property mark with which Paul would have made himself a slave to Christ. However, this interpretation is not supported by the context. Presumably Paul was mistreated while doing missionary work; these injuries were so severe that he expected consideration. "A similarity with the death wounds of Jesus, with the nailing and the piercing, is not meant," said the Catholic New Testament scholar Udo Borse.

These biblical texts developed a history of their own in the medieval Franciscan Passion Piety. The Pauline mention of a mark (Gal 6:17) and the motif of an imprint of a seal from the Revelation of John (Rev 13: 16-17) lead to the idea that the skin of the martyred Christ is almost tattooed with wounds and like a parchment with a holy one Scripture described "which the believer has to re-spell in the imitatio Christi in order to save his own skin."


The number of carriers with the visible and spontaneously bleeding wounds should not exceed 100; In 1948, the doctor Franz Lothar Schleyer identified almost 70 confirmed cases for a medical study. Almost always (mostly very young) women show this phenomenon; some authors even consider Francis and Padre Pio to be the only male stigmatists. The phenomenon is very rare in the Protestant area (2 to 3 cases); no cases of stigmatization are known from the Orthodox churches.

middle Ages

St. Katharina faints when she receives the stigmata. Altarpiece by Robert Kuven in St. Pantaleon in Munchhausen, Alsace

For the first time in the late early Middle Ages , especially around the year 1000 and later, there were several cases of self-stigmatization, with which the passio Christi was to be relived partly out of genuine piety , but which were partly simple deception.

The first case of stigmatization recognized by the Roman Catholic Church is that of Francis of Assisi, venerated as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church . His stigmatization is said to have occurred on September 14, 1224, but was not known until his death. The first woman who is said to have received stigmata was Christina von Stommeln (1242–1312), whose relics are now in Jülich; traces can be seen on the skull of the beatified , which are interpreted as traces of a crown of thorns .

In the period that followed, there were increasing reports of stigmatization, which has since been viewed in the Roman Catholic area as an important part of the physical experience of Christian mysticism . The number of stigmatized persons stated varies between 100 and over 330, depending on the author, as there are no precise criteria as to what is meant by stigmatization. There are also said to be stigmatized people whose marks have been received but remain hidden; this includes Katharina von Siena and Gertrud von Helfta , among others .

Modern times

Veronica Giuliani , who is said to have been stigmatized on her hands, feet and heart on Good Friday 1697, only wore the marks on her hands and feet, but not on her side. At the autopsy after her death by two doctors in the presence of numerous witnesses, however, her heart was found to be completely pierced.

19th century to the present

Maria von Mörl with hand stigmata
Therese Neumann's grave, Konnersreuth cemetery

Well-known stigmatists in recent times include Anna Katharina Emmerick , Maria von Mörl , Therese Neumann from Konnersreuth , Juliana Weiskircher , Pater Pio and Marthe Robin . Well-known contemporary stigmatists are the Italian religious brother Elia (* 1962), the Greek Catholic Syrian Myrna Nazzour (* 1964) and the Indian religious woman Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan , who was canonized in October 2019.

In the 19th century, stigmatization mostly appeared in “stereotypical constellations”, writes the medical historian Clara Wurm. The stigmatized were mostly women from the rural lower class, with little education, strong roots in the Catholic faith and an early interest in mysticism , combined with early sickness, which is why they could hardly have participated in normal social or monastic life. The stigmatization, combined with other phenomena such as ecstasy, visions, and lack of food, gave these women national recognition and the opportunity to be socially accepted as mystics.

Some of the modern stigmatists have been examined several times by medical professionals to rule out self-inflating of their wounds. For example, it is reported that Anna Katharina Emmerick's hand wounds were tightly bandaged and observed day and night by a commission without any change in their bleeding. Louise Lateau is one of the best-documented cases of stigmatization as it has been studied by a large number of doctors; their stigmata are said to have bled on Fridays. Rudolf Virchow wanted to accept the offer to “organize an observation”, however, only on his own terms and not “enter into circumstances whose peculiarities I cannot overlook”.

Wurm notes critically that the stigmatized women were expected to submit to all kinds of painful experiments in order to document their piety and the authenticity of their experience. The Catholic doctor and professor Ferdinand Lefebvre gave Louise Lateau electric shocks on her face, as she could endure this, in his opinion the appearance was supernatural. As already known from witch trials, stigmatized needle tests were subjected, Lefebrve explained: “One could say that she (Louise Lateau) has lost the right to own herself; it has become common property, belongs to everyone; something that anyone can examine as they please. ”The medical methods had been approved by church representatives who were interested in a scientific miracle. Wurm explains that all approaches to medical confrontation with the phenomenon have in common that a caring and respectful approach to the “unquestionably sick women”, as well as a therapeutic approach, has hardly taken place. The stigmatized women represented a “bizarre challenge” for the doctors of the 19th century, but in the end they failed.

Church judgment

At the canonization of Francis of Assisi, Pope Gregory IX. stigmatization as a decisive argument. This was followed by a counter-movement, expressed classically in the work of Prospero Lambardini (Pope Benedict XIV. ) De servorum Dei beatificazione et beatorum canonzatione (2nd edition, 1843): Stigmatization alone is not a reason for canonization.

In the 20th century, the Roman Catholic Church was cautious about the phenomenon of stigmatization. In principle, the ecclesiastical faith is open to the possibility of miracles , but in individual cases, according to the theologian Andreas-Pazifikus Alkofer ODFMConv , the biographical context and the intentions of the stigmatized person must be examined before a supernatural process can be accepted. The interpretation is based on a "range between autosuggestion and charisma ".

Thirteen stigmatized people were canonized by the Roman Catholic Church and several others were beatified . The Roman Catholic Church does not automatically regard stigmatization as supernatural or as a demonstration of holiness, because it is strictly speaking "an extraordinary manifestation of what happens to every baptized": the incorporation and becoming one with the crucified Lord Jesus Christ. In the case of beatifications and canonizations, stigmata were either not mentioned or only mentioned in passing. Neither the Catholic Church nor the Orthodox Church have made any doctrinal statements on the phenomenon of stigmatization.

According to Otto Weiß , there has recently been a trend in the opposite direction, which is evident in the beatifications of Padre Pio and Anna Katharina Emmerick. The development goes towards "that in the Catholic Church a more enlightened phase follows an increased belief in miracles, which also affects the assessment of stigmatized people."

Attempts to explain

Fresco of the stigmatization of St. Francis of Assisi in St. Katharinen in Lübeck

Some physicians and theologians assume that stigmatization is predominantly natural, psychogenic . A current interpretation of an investigation report from 1927 on Therese Neumann from the Psychiatric Clinic of the University of Munich comes to the conclusion that the stigmata arose spontaneously, i.e. without manipulation, in the context of psychosomatic symptom formation on the background of intense religious fantasies. Studies have shown that hypnosis causes recurring subcutaneous bleeding and non-healing wounds can disappear again.

The stigmatization is possibly related to blood sweating and blood crying , for which a natural cause seems certain. With these phenomena, however, there are no open wounds, but the blood escapes directly through the uninjured skin, as has also been reported in some stigmatized people of bleeding of the forehead and scalp.

However, psychological mechanisms are controversial. For example, it is claimed that open wounds did not heal for many years (with Padre Pio even 50 years), but neither did they become inflamed or festered and this cannot be explained medically. It is known from the medical use of indwelling catheters that the susceptibility to infection in the case of permanent, deep injuries to the skin varies greatly from patient to patient. There are cases in which no inflammatory changes occur for years or decades. For a blood flow opposite to gravity, as it is e.g. B. Anna Katharina Emmerick asserts, as well as similar paranormal phenomena lack objective evidence.

Hand stigmata are usually seen on the palm of the hand or the back of the hand. Today, however, it is considered likely that the nail was driven in near the wrist between the ulna and radius of the forearm in ancient crucifixions . It is interesting that the wounds of the stigmatized mostly appear in the same way as the nailing of Jesus to the cross is artistically portrayed in this cultural area. If a culture shows Jesus' wounds on the back of the hand, then the people there have wounds on the back of the hand. If, on the other hand, wounds are shown on the joints, they occur there.

Long-term studies by the Frankfurt University Clinic for Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy in collaboration with the Philosophical-Theological University of Sankt Georgen came to the conclusion that stigmata are often the result of “ dissociative identity disorders ”, i.e. the injuries are inflicted by a split-off part of the personality itself and therefore cannot be remembered.


The issue of stigmatization has been taken up in several films:


  • Andreas-Pazifikus Alkofer, Bernhard Grom : Stigma, stigmatization . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 9 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 2000, Sp. 1004 f .
  • René Biot: The Riddle of the Stigmatized (= Ekklesia Library. Vol. 4, ZDB -ID 526704-3 ). Pattloch, Aschaffenburg 1957.
  • Wolfgang Garvelmann : You see Christ. Reports of experiences of the passion and resurrection of Christ. Anna Katharina Emmerich, Therese Neumann, Judith von Halle. A concordance. Verlag am Goetheanum, Dornach 2008.
  • Irmtraud Götz von Olenhusen (ed.): Wonderful apparitions. Women and Catholic Piety in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Schöningh, Paderborn u. a. 1995, ISBN 3-506-76178-1 .
  • Michael Hesemann : Stigmata. They bear the wounds of Christ. Silberschnur, Güllesheim 2006, ISBN 3-89845-125-9 .
  • Johannes Maria Höcht: Bearer of the wounds of Christ. A story of the stigmatized. Edited and supplemented by Arnold Guillet . 6th edition, 17th – 19th Thousand. Christiana-Verlag, Stein am Rhein 2004, ISBN 3-7171-0596-5 .
  • Walter Jacobi: The stigmatized. Contributions to the psychology of mysticism . Springer, Berlin / Heidelberg 1923.
  • Ingrid Malzahn: Padre Pio von Pietrelcina. Miracles, healings and the power of prayer. Grasmück, Altenstadt 2001, ISBN 3-931723-12-7 .
  • Joe Nickell: Looking for a Miracle. Weeping, Icons, Relics, Stigmata, Visions & Healing Cures. Prometheus Books, Buffalo NY 1993, ISBN 0-87975-840-6 .
  • Gerd Overbeck, Ulrich Niemann: Stigmata: History and Psychosomatics of a Religious Phenomenon . WBG, Darmstadt 2012.
  • Franz L. Schleyer : The stigmatization with the blood marks. Biographical extracts and medical analysis. Schmorl & von Seefeld, Hanover 1948.
  • Oktavian Schmucki : stigmatization . In: Josef Höfer , Karl Rahner (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 2nd Edition. tape 9 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1964.
  • Otmar Seidl : On the stigmatization and lack of food of Therese Neumann (1898–1962). In: The neurologist. Vol. 79, No. 7, 2008, pp. 836-844, doi : 10.1007 / s00115-008-2475-5 .
  • Otto Weiß: Stigmata: Signs of legitimation for holiness? In: Hubert Wolf (ed.): “True” and “false” holiness: mysticism, power and gender roles in 19th century Catholicism . Oldenbourg, Munich 2013, pp. 111–126 ( open access as PDF from De Gruyter).
  • Clara Wurm: The Medical View of the Phenomenon of Religious Stigmatization in the 19th Century . In: Axel Karenberg et al. (Ed.): Research on the history of medicine. Contributions of the “Rheinischer Kreis der Medizinhistoriker.” Kassel 2013, pp. 119–132.

Web links

Wiktionary: stigmatization  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Andrew Pacificus Alkofer: stigma, stigmatization . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 9 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 2000, Sp. 1004 .
  2. Andrew Pacificus Alkofer: stigma, stigmatization . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 9 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 2000, Sp. 1004 .
  3. ^ Eric Silverman: A Cultural History of Jewish Dress . Bloomsbury, London, New York 2013, p. 14.
  4. Claus Westermann: The book Isaiah chap. 40–66 (= The Old Testament German). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1966, p. 112.
  5. ^ Septuaginta Deutsch , Stuttgart 2009, p. 1370.
  6. Greek-German dictionary on the writings of the New Testament and early Christian literature , founded by Walter Bauer, 6th completely revised edition, edited by Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, New York 1988, Sp 1533f.
  7. Udo Borse: The Letter to the Galatians (Regensburg New Testament), Pustet, Regensburg 1984, p. 225.
  8. Hans-Georg von Arburg: Art. Tattoo , in: Günter Butzer, Joachim Jacob (Hrsg.): Metzler Lexikon literary symbols , Stuttgart / Weimar 2008, p. 378 f., Quotation p. 378.
  9. Otto Weiß: Stigmata: Signs of legitimation for holiness? , Munich 2013, p. 114.
  10. ^ Richard C. Trexler: The Stigmatized Body of Francis of Assisi: Conceived, Processed, Disappeared. In: Klaus Schreiner, Marc Müntz (Hrsg.): Piety in the Middle Ages. Political-social contexts, visual practice, physical forms of expression. Fink, Munich 2002, pp. 463-497, here pp. 466-486.
  11. ^ Achim Wesjohann: Mendikantische founding narratives in the 13th and 14th centuries. Myths as an element of institutional historiography of the medieval Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinian hermits. LIT, Berlin 2012, p. 236.
  12. Andrew Pacificus Alkofer: stigma, stigmatization . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 9 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 2000, Sp. 1004 .
  13. ^ Marianne Schlosser , Encountering Katharina von Siena (Augsburg 2006), p. 77.
  14. Franz Lothar Schleyer: The stigmatization with the blood marks. 1948, p. 45 ff.
  16. Clara Wurm: The medical view of the phenomenon of religious stigmatization in the 19th century , Kassel 2013, p. 120.
  17. Rudolf Virchow: About miracles . Speech given at the first general meeting of the 17th Assembly of German Naturalists and Doctors in Breslau on September 18, 1874, with a postscript, Breslau 1874.
  18. Clara Wurm: The medical view of the phenomenon of religious stigmatization in the 19th century , Kassel 2013, p. 121 f.
  19. Clara Wurm: The medical view of the phenomenon of religious stigmatization in the 19th century , Kassel 2013, p. 122, note 22.
  20. Clara Wurm: The medical view of the phenomenon of religious stigmatization in the 19th century , Kassel 2013, p. 121 f.
  21. Clara Wurm: The medical view of the phenomenon of religious stigmatization in the 19th century , Kassel 2013, p. 129.
  22. Otto Weiß: Stigmata: Signs of legitimation for holiness? , Munich 2013, p. 111 f.
  23. Andrew Pacificus Alkofer: stigma, stigmatization. 4. Theological . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 9 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 2000, Sp. 1005 .
  24. ^ Schlosser, Encounter Catherine of Siena , p. 77.
  25. Otto Weiß: Stigmata: Signs of legitimation for holiness? , Munich 2013, p. 113.
  26. ^ O. Seidl: On the stigmatization and lack of food of Therese Neumann. 2008, pp. 836-844.
  27. Otto Weiß: Stigmata: Signs of legitimation for holiness? , Munich 2013, p. 122.