1902 Encyclopedia > Stigmatization


STIGMATIZATION, literally the infliction of stigmata, i.e., marks tattooed or branded on the person, the term used with specific reference to the infliction of wounds like those of Christ.

An ancient and widespread method of showing tribal connexion, or relation to tribal deities, is by marks set upon the person; thus Herodotus, in describing a temple of Hercules in Egypt (ii. 113), says that it is not lawful to capture runaway slaves who take refuge therein if they receive certain marks on their bodies, devoting them to the deity. Some such idea is perhaps alluded to by Paul (Gal. vi. 17) in the words, "from henceforth let no man trouble me, for I bear branded on my body the stigmata of Jesus"; and some few authors have even understood the passage as referring to stigmatization in the modern sense (Molanus, De Historia. SS. Imaginum et Picturarum, ed. Paquot, iii. 43, p. 365). Branding, as indicative of servitude, is mentioned in many of the classics (Pliny, H. N., xviii. 3; Varro, De Re Rustica, i. 18 ; Suetonius, Caligula, xxvii. &c.), and was forbidden by Constantine.

In the period of persecution Christian martyrs were sometimes branded with the name of Christ on their foreheads (Pontius, "De Vit. S. Cypriani," Biblioth. Veterum Patrum, iii. p. 472, § vii.). This was sometimes self-inflicted as a disfigurement by nuns for their protection, as in the case of St Ebba, abbess of Coldingham (see Baronius, Annales, xv. p. 215, anno 870, also Tert, De Vel. Virg.). Some Christians likewise marked themselves on their hands or arms with the cross or the name of Christ (Procopius, In Esaiam, ed. Curterius, p. 496), and other voluntary mutilations for Christ’s sake are mentioned (Matt. xix. 12; Fortunatus, Life of St Rhadegund, ed. Migne, col. 508; Palladius, Lausiac History, exit.; Jerome’s Letter to St Eustochium, &c.).

In the life of St Francis of Assisi we have the first example of the alleged miraculous infliction of stigmata (see vol. ix. p. 692). While meditating on the sufferings of our Lord, in his cell on Mount Alverno, we are told by his biographers, Thomas of Celano and Bonaventura, that the Lord appeared to him as a seraph and produced upon his body the five wounds of Christ; of these we are told that the side wound bled occasionally, though Bonaventura calls it a scar, and the wounds in the feet had the appearance and colour of nails thrust through. After his death St Clare endeavoured but in vain to extract one of these. Pope Alexander IV. and other witnesses declared that they had seen these marks both before and after his death (Raynaldus, ad annum 1255, p. 27). The divinely-attested sanctity of their founder gave to the newly-established order of Franciscans a powerful impulse, so that they soon equalled and threatened to overshadow in influence the previously-founded order of St Dominic.

The reputation of the latter order was, however, equally raised in the next century by the occurrence of the same wonder in the case of a sister of the third rule of St Dominic, Catherine Benincasa,—better known as St Catherine of Siena. From her biographer’s account we gather that she was subject to hystero-epileptic attacks, in one of which, when she was twenty-three years old, she received the first stigma (see vol. v. p. 230). In spite of her great reputation, and the number of attesting witnesses, this occurrence was not universally believed in. Pope Sixtus IV. published a bull in 1475 ordering, on pain of anathema, the erasure of stigmata from pictures of St Catherine, and prohibiting all expressions of belief in the occurrence. Pope Innocent VIII. similarly legislated "ne de caetero S. Catherina cum stigmatibus depingatur; neve de ejus stigmatibus fiat verbum, aut sermo, vel praedicatio ad tollendam omnem scandali occasionem" (see references in Raynaud, De Stigmatisme, cap. xi., 1665). In the years which followed, cases of stigmatization occurred thick and fast,—now a Franciscan, now a Dominican, very rarely a religieuse of another order, showing the marks. Altogether about ninety instances are on record, of which eighteen were males and seventy-two females. Most of them occurred among residents in religious houses, and took place after the austerities of Lent, usually on Good Friday, when the mind was intently fixed on our Lord’s Passion; and, from their occurrence being for the most part among members of the two orders to which St Francis and St Catherine belonged, the possibility of the reception of the marks was constantly before their eyes and thoughts. The order of infliction in the majority of cases was that of the crucifixion, the first token being a bloody sweat, followed by the coronation with thorns; afterwards the hand and foot wounds appear, that of the side being the last. The grade of the infliction varied in individual cases, and they may be grouped in the following series:—

I. As regards full stigmatization, with the visible production of the five wounds, and generally with the mark of the crown as well, the oldest case, after St Francis, is that of Ida of Louvain (1300), in whom the marks appeared as coloured circles; in Gertrude von Oosten of Delft (1344) they were coloured scars, and disappeared in answer to prayer as they also did on Dominica de Paradis; in Sister Pierona, a Franciscan, they were blackish grey. They were true wounds in Margaret Ebnerin of Nuremberg (d. 1351), but they also disappeared in answer to her prayer (see her Life, Augsburg, 1717), as was the case with Brigitta, a Dominican tertiary (1390), and also with Lidwina. An intermission is described in the marks on Johanna della Croce of Madrid (1524), in whom the wound in the side was large, and the others were rose-coloured circular patches. The marks appeared on each Friday and vanished on Sunday. These emitted an odour of violets; but in Sister Apollonia of Volaterra they were fetid while she lived. Angela della Pace (1634) was fully stigmatized at nine years of age, being even marked with the sponge and hyssop on the mouth; while Joanna de Jesu-Maria at Burgos (1613), a widow, who had entered the convent of Poor Clares, was marked in her sixtieth year. To her in vision two crowns were offered,—one of flowers and one of thorns; she chose the latter and immediately was seized with such pain that her confessor heard her skull cracking. This case was investigated by the officers of the Inquisition. The stigmatization of Veronica Giuliani (1696) was also the subject of inquiry, and in this case the nun drew on a paper a representation of the images which she said were engraved on her heart. On a post-mortem examination being made in 1727 by Prof. Gentili and Dr Bordiga, the image of the cross, the scourge, &c., were said to have been impressed on the right side of the organ (Vita della Veronica Giuliani, by Salvatori, Rome, 1803). The case of Christina Stumbelen, a Dominican at Cologne, is noteworthy, as on her skull there was found a raised ridge or crown which was at first green, with red dots. This relic is still preserved. In Lucia di Narni (1546) the marks were variable, as they also were on Sister Maria di S. Dominico. On the body of St Margaret of Hungary the stigmata were found fresh and clear when her body was exhumed some time after her death for transportation to Presburg. Other stigmatized persons were Elizabeth von Spalbeck, a Cistercian; Sister Coleta, a Poor Clare; Matilda von Stanz; Margaret Bruch of Endringen (1503); Maria Razzi of Chios (1582); Catharina Januensis; Elizabeth Keith of Allgau; Stieva zu Hamm in Westphalia; Sister Mary of the Incarnation at Pontoise; Archangela Tardera in Sicily (1608); Catharina Ricci in Florence (1590); and Joanna Maria della Croce, a Poor Clare at Roveredo (d. 1673), upon whom the markings of the thorn crown and spear wound were especially deep.

II. In some cases, although the pains of stigmatization were felt, there were no marks apparent. This occurred to Helen Brumsen (1285); Helena of Hungary (1270); Osanna of Mantua (1476); Columba Rocasani; Magdalena de Pazzis; Anna of Vargas; Hieronyma Carvaglio; Maria of Lisbon, a Dominican; Joanna di Vercelli; Stephania Soncinas, a Franciscan; Sister Christina, a Carthusian; and Joanna Rodriguez, a Poor Clare. In the case of Ursula Aguir de Valenza, a tertiary of St Dominic (1608), and Catharine Cialina (d. 1619) the pain was chiefly that of the crown of thorns, as it was also in Amelia Bicchieri of Vercelli, an Augustinian.

III. In a third series some of the marks were visible on the body, while others were absent or only subjectively indicated by severe pains. The crown of thorns only was marked on the head of Vincentia Ferreria at Valencia (d. 1515) and Philippa de Santo Tomaso of Montemor (1670), while according to Torellus the Augustinian Ritta von Cassia (d. 1430) had a single thorn wound on the forehead. The crown was marked on Catharina of Raconizio (b. 1486) who also suffered a severe bloody sweat. In the case of Stephano Quinzani, in Soncino (1457), there was a profuse bloody sweat and the wounds were intermitting, appearing on Friday and Saturday, vanishing on Sunday. Blanche Gazinan, daughter of Count Arias de Sagavedra (1564), was marked only on the right foot, as also was Catherine, a Cistercian nun. The heart wound was visible in Christina Mirabilis (1232). Gabrielda de Piezolo (d. 1473) died from the bleeding of such a wound, and similar wounds were described in Maria de Acosrin in Toledo; Eustochia, a tertiary of St Francis; Clara de Bugny, a Dominican (1514); Cecilia Nobili, a Poor Clare of Nucena (d. 1655). In the last instance the heart wound was found after death—a three-cornered puncture. A similar wound was seen in the heart of Martina de Arilla (d. 1644). Maria Villana, a Poor Clare, daughter of the margrave of La Pella, was marked with the crown and the spear thrust, and after death the impresses of the spear, sponge, and reed were found on her heart (d. 1670). The wound was usually on the left side, as in Sister Masrona of Grenoble, a tertiary of St Francis (1627); it was on the right in Margareta Columna, also a Clare. In Maria de Sarmiento it was said to have been inflicted by a seraph in a vision.

IV. In a fourth set of cases the imprints were said to have been found on the heart, even though there was no surface marking. Thus the Dominican Paula de St Thomas was said to have had the stigmata on her heart. The heart of Clare of Montfaucon (1308) was said to have been as large as a child’s head and impressed with the cross, the scourge, and the nails. Similar appearances were found in Margaret of Citta di Capello and Johanna of Yepes (1591).

The instances of masculine stigmatization are few. Benedict di Rhegio, a Capuchin at Bologna, had the marks of the crown (1602); Carolus Sazia, an ignorant lay brother, had the wound in his side. Dodo, a Praemonstratensian lay brother, was fully stigmatized, as also was Philip de Aqueria. The marks after death were found on the heart of Angelos del Pas, a minorite of Perpignan, as also on Matheo Carery in Mantua, Melchior of Arazel in Valentia, Cherubin de Aviliana (an Augustinian), and Agolini of Milan. Walter of Strasburg, a preaching friar (1264), had the heart-pain but no mark, and the same was the case with a Franciscan, Robert de Malatestis (1430), and James Stephanus. On Nicholas of Ravenna the wounds were seen after death, while John Gray, a Scotsman, a Franciscan martyr, had one wound on his foot.

Within the last hundred years several cases have occurred. Anna Katharina Emmerich, a peasant girl born at Münster in 1774, afterwards an Augustinian nun at Agnetenberg, was even more famous for her visions and revelations than for the stigmata. Biographies, with records of her visions, have been published by Brentano at Munich in 1852 and the Abbé Cazalès at Paris (1870). Colombe Schanolt of Bamberg (1787) was fully stigmatized, as also was Rose Serra, a Capuchin of Ozieri in Sardinia (1801), and Madeleine Lorger (1806). Two well-known cases occurred in Tyrol,—one "L’Ecstatica" Maria von Mörl of Caldaro, a girl of noble family, stigmatized in 1839, the other "L’Addolorata" Maria Dominica Lazzari, a miller’s daughter at Capriana, stigmatized in 1835 (see Boré, Les Stigmatisées du Tyrol, Paris, 1846). A case of the second class is that of Elizabeth Eppinger of Niederbrunn in Bavaria (1814), reported on by Kuhn. An interesting example of stigmatic trance also occurred in the case of a Protestant young woman in Saxony in 1820, who appeared as if dead on Good Friday and Saturday and revived on Easter Sunday.

The last case recorded is that of Louise Lateau, a peasant girl at Bois de Haine, Hainault, upon whom the stigmata appeared April 24, 1868. This case was investigated by Professor Lefebvre of Louvain, who for fifteen years was physician to two lunatic asylums. In her there was a periodic bleeding of the stigmata every Friday, and a frequent recurrence of the hystero-cataleptic condition. Her biography has been written by Lefebvre and published at Louvain (1870).

On surveying these ninety cases, we may discount a certain number, including all those of the second class, as examples of subjective sensations suggested by the contemplation of the pains of crucifixion. A second set, of which the famous case of Jetzer (Wirz, Helvetische Kirchengeschichte, 1810, iii. p. 389) is a type, must be also set aside as obvious and intentional frauds produced on victims by designing persons. A third series, and how large a group we have not sufficient evidence to decide, we must regard as due to the irresponsible self-infliction of injuries by persons in the hystero-epileptic condition, those perverted states of nervous action which Charcot has done so much to elucidate. To any experienced in this form of disease, many of the phenomena described in the records of these examples are easily recognizable as characteristic of the hystero-epileptic state.

There are, however, some instances not easily explained, where the self-infliction hypothesis is not quite satisfactory. Parallel cases of physical effects due to mental suggestion are well authenticated. Beaunis vouches for rubefaction and vesication as produced by suggestion in the hypnotic state, and Bourru and Burot describe a case, still under observation, of bloody sweat, and red letters marked on the arm by simple tracing with the finger. See Congrès Scientifique de Grenoble, Progrés Medicale, 29 Aug. 1885, and Berjon’s La Grande Hystérie chez l’Homme, Paris, 1886. We know so little of the trophic action of the higher nerve centres that we cannot say how far tissue nutrition can be controlled in spots. That the nerve centres have a direct influence on local nutrition is in some cases capable of experimental demonstration, and, in another sphere, the many authenticated instances of connexion between maternal impression and congenital deformity seem to indicate that this trophic influence has wider limits and a more specific capacity of localization than at first sight seems possible. There is no known pathological condition in which blood transudation can take place through an unbroken skin.

Literature.—See references to each name in Acta Sanctorum or Hueber, Menologium Franciscanorum, 1698; Henriquez, Menologium cistersiense; Marchese, Sagro Diario; Steill, Ephemerides Dominicano Sacrae, Dillingen, 1692; Petrus de Alva y Astorga, Prodigium Naturae Portentium Gratiae, Strasburg, 1664 ; Thiepolus, De Passione Christi, tract, xii.; Meyer, Blätter für höhere Wahrheit, vii. 5; Hurter, Tableau des Institutions et des Moeurs de l’Eglise au Moyen Âge, Paris, 1842; Görres, Die Christliche Mystik, Ratisbon, ii. p. 410 sq.; Franciscus Quaresmius, De Vulneribus Domini, Venice, 1652, i. 4; Raynaud, Opera, vol. xiii., Lyons, 1665; Dublin Review, 1871, p. 170; Maury, Magie et Astrologie; Beaunis, Recherches exp. sur l’Activité Cerebrale, Paris, 1886 ; Bourbeyre, Les Stigmatisées, Paris, 1886; Ennemoser, Der Magnetismus im Verhältniss zur Religion, Stuttgart, 1853, § 92; Tholuck’s Vermischte Schriften, Hamburg, 1839, p. 97; Schmieder, in Evang. Kirchenzeitung, Berlin, 1875, pp. 180, 345; Comptes Rendus de la Société de Biologie, 12th July 1885. (A. MA.)

The above article was written by: Alexander Maccaliser, M.D., F.R.S., Professor of Anatomy, University of Cambridge.

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