Stigmata are unique mystical signs that few people have experienced. When someone receives the stigmata, they share in the sufferings of Christ in a very literal way: they bear the wounds of Christ crucified. Stigmatics experience wounds in their hands, feet, or side (the wounds of the Crucifixion), on their head (the wounds of the Crown of Thorns), on their back (the wounds of the scourging), or some combination of these.
Stigmatics are often not believed when they reveal their mystical wounds, and many try to hide them altogether so as not to draw attention to themselves. But the stigmata provide significant spiritual gifts for both bearers and witnesses. When a person bears the stigmata, he or she grows in deep spiritual union with Christ and is permitted to share his suffering. Though witnesses do not share that suffering, they become closer to Christ by seeing that their brother or sister is sharing his pain, and that the origin of the wounds is supernatural. This mystical experience is not something to be sensationalized, but to be taken as one among the many signs of God’s love and closeness to us.
These five saints are among the handful of the faithful who have received the stigmata:
1. St. Francis of Assisi
Feast: October 4
St. Francis of Assisi is the first person recorded to have received the stigmata. His hands, feet, and side were marked with the wounds of Christ after a vision he received near the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. His wounds bled often, but they never became infected.
2. St. Padre Pio
Feast: September 23
One of the best-known stigmatics, St. Pio of Pietrelcina bore the stigmata for more than fifty years. Since Padre Pio lived during the 20th century, his stigmata were studied under the scrutiny of contemporary medicine. No one has been able to find a natural cause for his wounds.
3. St. Catherine of Siena
Feast: April 29
St. Catherine of Siena received the stigmata in 1375. After receiving Communion at the Church of St. Christina, red rays shot out from the crucifix and pierced her. St. Catherine’s wounds were invisible to people other than herself until she died.
4. St. Faustina Kowalska
Feast: October 5
The Polish nun St. Faustina Kowalska is best known for receiving the image of Divine Mercy and giving us the prayer from Jesus known as the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. As a sign of her union with God, she also received the invisible stigmata — one among many graces from God.
5. St. Rita of Cascia
Feast: May 22
St. Rita of Cascia received the stigmata five years before the end of her extraordinary life. After she was widowed and lost both her sons, she entered the monastery of St. Mary Magdalene at Cascia, where she received the stigmata in the form of the wounds from the Crown of Thorns.