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Julian Mironov
Julian Mironov

Stigmata



Methods: Consecutive patients hospitalized with severe hematochezia underwent urgent colonoscopy after purge. Those with rectal ulcers were divided into 2 groups based on the absence or presence of major stigmata of recent hemorrhage: active bleeding, visible vessel, or adherent clot. Major stigmata were treated with epinephrine injection and coagulation with a bipolar probe. The primary outcome endpoint was recurrent bleeding within 4 weeks of diagnosis.




Stigmata


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Results: Rectal ulcers were identified in 23 of 285 (8%) patients. Twelve of 23 patients had major stigmata; these patients had an arithmetically greater decrease in hematocrit and required more blood transfusions than patients without major stigmata. Initial hemostasis was achieved in all, but bleeding recurred in 5 with stigmata. Four patients died of comorbid conditions. There was no recurrent bleeding or death in those without stigmata.


Conclusions: Patients with rectal ulcers harboring major stigmata are at high risk for severe bleeding, recurrent bleeding, and death. For ulcers with major stigmata, endoscopic hemostasis is feasible but rates of recurrent bleeding are high.


People who have stigmata exhibit wounds that duplicate or represent those that Jesus is said to have endured during his crucifixion. The wounds typically appear on the stigmatic's hands and feet (as from crucifixion spikes) and also sometimes on the side (as from a spear) and hairline (as from a crown of thorns).


Curiously, there are no known cases of stigmata for the first 1,200 years after Jesus died. The first person said to suffer from stigmata was St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), and there have been about three dozen others throughout history, most of them women.


The most famous stigmatic in history was Francesco Forgione (1887-1968), better known as Padre Pio, or Pio of Pietrelcina. The most beloved Italian saint of the last century, Padre Pio first began noticing red wounds appearing on his hands in 1910, and the phenomenon progressed until he experienced full stigmata in 1918 as he prayed in front of a crucifix in his monastery's chapel.


Padre Pio was said to have been able to fly, and also to bilocate (to be in two places at once); his stigmata was allegedly accompanied by a miraculous perfume; the Rev. Charles Mortimer Carty, in his 1963 biography of the saint, noted that it smelled of "violets, lilies, roses, incense, or even fresh tobacco," and "whenever anyone notices the perfume it is a sign that God bestows some grace through the intercession of Padre Pio."


Pio's stigmata appeared, Lizzatto argues, because that's exactly what the church and its followers expected to appear in its most devout servants: Jesus' real, physical torment visited upon the holiest of men.


Still, Padre Pio garnered a widespread following and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002. Though Pio, who died in 1968, never confessed to faking his stigmata, questions about his honesty surfaced when it was revealed that he had copied his writings about his experiences from an earlier stigmatic named Gemma Galgani. He claimed ignorance of Galgani's work, and could not explain how his allegedly personal experiences had been published verbatim decades earlier by someone else. Perhaps, he suggested, it was a miracle.


If stigmata is real, there is no medical or scientific explanation for it. Wounds do not suddenly and spontaneously appear on people's bodies for no reason; some specific instrument (such as a knife, tooth, or bullet) can always be identified as causing the trauma. Without a medical examination, it is impossible to distinguish a minor (but bloody) surface wound (which could be easily faked or self-inflicted) from a genuine and serious puncture wound identical to that caused by a Roman-era crucifixion spike. X-rays, which could definitively determine whether a wound is superficial or truly pierces a limb, have never been done on stigmatics.


The fact that many of the faithful take comfort and inspiration from the teachings of stigmatics also serves as a deterrent from raising too many questions. Even those with legitimate suspicions may prefer to remain silent if it helps spread the gospel and serves a larger purpose. Until a person suffering from stigmata allows himself or herself to be subjected to close medical scientific investigation, the phenomenon will remain a myth.


"Stigmata" is possibly the funniest movie ever made about Catholicism--from a theological point of view. Mainstream audiences will view it as a lurid horror movie, an "The Exorcist" wannabe, but for students of the teachings of the church, it offers endless goofiness. It confuses the phenomenon of stigmata with satanic possession, thinks stigmata can be transmitted by relics and portrays the Vatican as a conspiracy against miracles.


The story: In Brazil, a holy priest has come into possession of a lost gospel "told in the words of Jesus himself." In the priest's church is a bleeding statue of the Virgin Mary. The Vatican dispatches a miracle-buster, Father Andrew (Gabriel Byrne), to investigate. "The blood is warm and human," he tells his superiors. He wants to crate up the statue and ship it to the Vatican for investigation, but is prevented. (One pictures a vast Vatican storehouse of screen windows and refrigerator doors bearing miraculous images.) The old priest in Brazil has died, and in the marketplace an American tourist buys his rosary and mails it as a souvenir to her daughter Frankie (Patricia Arquette), who is a hairdresser in Pittsburgh. Soon after receiving the rosary, Frankie begins to exhibit the signs of the stigmata--bleeding wounds on the wrists, head and ankles, where Christ was pierced on the cross. Father Andrew is again dispatched to investigate, reminding me of Illeana Douglas' priceless advice to her haunted brother in "Stir Of Echoes": "Find one of those young priests with smoldering good looks to sort of guide you through this." The priest decides Frankie cannot have the stigmata, because she is not a believer: "It happens only to deeply religious people." Psychiatrists quiz her, to no avail. ("Is there any stress in your life?" "I cut hair.") But alarming manifestations continue: Frankie bleeds, glass shatters, there are rumbles on the soundtrack, she has terrifying visions and at one point she speaks to the priest in a deeply masculine voice, reminding us of Linda Blair in "The Exorcist." Now there's the problem. Linda Blair was possessed by an evil spirit. Frankie has been entered by the Holy Spirit. Instead of freaking out in nightclubs and getting blood all over her bathroom, she should be in some sort of religious ecstasy, like Lili Taylor in "Household Saints." It is not a dark and fearsome thing to be bathed in the blood of the lamb.


It is also not possible, according to leading church authorities, to catch the stigmata from a rosary. It is not a germ or a virus. It comes from within. If it didn't, you could cut up Padre Pio's bath towels and start your own blood drive. "Stigmata" does not know, or care, about the theology involved, and thus becomes peculiarly heretical by confusing the effects of being possessed by Jesus and by Beelzebub.


In 1226, St. Francis of Assisi had a vision of a seraph (the highest order of angels) with an image of the crucified Christ amid its six wings, from which he miraculously received the stigmata - the wounds inflicted upon Christ during the Crucifixion. El Greco depicts the wounds on Francis's elegant hands, and the saint's transfixed gaze conveys the spiritual impact of the experience. The absence of setting, the brilliance of the apparition, and the elongation of the figure contribute to an other-worldly effect. This is accentuated by the white paint and loose brushstrokes, which suggest rather than define the forms and which the artist learned to exploit in Venice before settling in Spain. The ephemeral quality is magnified by the contrast of what appears to be a real piece of paper, stuck to the canvas, ephasizing the physicality of the painting as an object. It bears the words "Domenikos Theotokopoulos Made This" in the artist's native Greek, meaning something close to "[the man] dedicated to the God-bearing son made this". The miraculous vision was a favorite subject of El Greco's, and he, himself a lay Franciscan, created a quintessential expression of the mystical and emotional spirituality of the contemporary Counter-Reformation movement.


II. The facts having been set forth, it remains to state the explanations that have been offered. Some physiologists, both Catholics and Free-thinkers, have maintained that the wounds might be produced in a purely natural manner by the sole action of the imagination coupled with lively emotions. The person being keenly impressed by the sufferings of the Savior and penetrated by a great love, this preoccupation acts on her or him physically, reproducing the wounds of Christ. This would in no wise diminish his or her merit in accepting the trial, but the immediate cause of the phenomena would not be supernatural. We shall not attempt to solve this question. Physiological science does not appear to be far enough advanced to permit a definite solution, and the writer of this article adopts the intermediate position, which seems to him unassailable, that of showing that the arguments in favor of natural explanations are illusory. They are sometimes arbitrary hypotheses, being equivalent to mere assertions, sometimes arguments based on exaggerated or misinterpreted facts. But if the progress of medical sciences and psycho-physiology should present serious objections, it must be remembered that neither religion nor mysticism is dependent on the solution of these questions, and that in processes of canonization stigmata do not count as incontestable miracles.


No one has ever claimed that imagination could produce wounds in a normal subject: it is true that this faculty can act slightly on the body, as Benedict XIV said, it may accelerate or retard the nerve-currents, but there is no instance of its action on the tissues (De canoniz., III, xxxiii, n. 31). But with regard to persons in an abnormal condition, such as ecstasy or hypnosis, the question is more difficult; and, despite numerous attempts, hypnotism has not produced very clear results. At most, and in exceedingly rare cases, it has induced exudations or a sweat more or less colored, but this is a very imperfect imitation. Moreover, no explanation has been offered of three circumstances presented by the stigmata of the saints: (I) Physicians do not succeed in curing these wounds with remedies. (2) On the other hand, unlike natural wounds of a certain duration, those of stigmatics do not give forth a fetid odor. To this there is known but one exception: St. Rita of Cassia had received on her brow a supernatural wound produced by a thorn detached from the crown of the crucifix. Though this emitted an unbearable odor, there was never any suppuration or morbid alteration of the tissues. (3) Sometimes these wounds give forth perfumes, for example those of Juana of the Cross, Franciscan prioress of Toledo, and Bl. Lucy of Narni. To sum up, there is only one means of proving scientifically that the imagination, that is auto-suggestion, may produce stigmata: instead of hypotheses, analogous facts in the natural order must be produced, namely wounds produced apart from a religious idea. This has not been done. 041b061a72


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