Religious Miracles

Miracles what are they and why do they happen is there some unseen force beyond the veil of reality? Or are these miracles cause by the power of our minds. The religious miracles I would like to theorize on basically are the ones dealing with Christ and the Virgin Mary. Miracles such as the Stigmata, Statues that bleed, Saints that are buried but do not show signs of decay, shed tears. I will admit I am not the most religious man but I do believe that there is a greater force here at work why perhaps these miracles are a way of saying to the world I exist I am that higher power. Although I have never seen a statue weep or witnessed the Stigmata I understand it pretty thoroughly. As religious as some things may seem there is no scientific explanation except theories as to why these events occur. Most of them happen in troubled nations perhaps to give the people in poverty hope or perhaps the church fakes some miracles as a way of keeping people focused to the church, god, and the donations of money from people around the world. But these miracles are not recent happenings they have occurred since the biblical age and 13th century. here is 100s of articles on weeping statues and miracles that we cannot explain. I believe the stigmata is a gift from Christ many will argue about this but if you look back at history people with the stigmata show no sign of a decline in health from the person, no sickness, blood drips from the eyes, hands, feet and they are open wounds once a persons stigmata goes away there are no signs that the wounds were even open. Even the blood type is different. I believe that Christ was a powerful man and I believe that in spirit he is able to carry on his work in the form of others. Those usually chosen for the stigmata are usually religious figures not always but most of the time perhaps its like a possession but rather miraculous one and why? To show the world that Christ still lives even if its in spirit. As far as tearing statues and preserved saints I believe in theory the reason for this happening is simple its a holy miracle something so pure with light this is the result.. Anything holy has energy put into it whether its compassion, sadness, perhaps this is a metaphysical thing people praying to a statue for so long that the statue itself might become intertwined with a religious spirit of the sort. Of course one church put a statue under a leaky roof and rust, dirty dripped down onto the statue covering the face with false tears. But the real crying statues give away a scented oily type of tears and sometimes the blood is that of a human. As far as saints being preserved that's another story perhaps its because they are some of the few people that died happy they lived a positive life helping others perhaps this positivity carried over even in death perhaps the brain stays alive and keeps the body preserved somehow. These are just some theories but I am sure we all have a variety of them dealing with Christ and miracles.

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Why Do Icons Weep

By Archpriest Paul O’Callaghan

IT CERTAINLY SEEMS THAT there has been an explosion recently in the frequency of icons “weeping” in North America. Several years ago, an icon began weeping in an Albanian Orthodox Church in Chicago, and the phenomenon received national attention. Pilgrims came from all over North America, and many miraculous healings were reported. The weeping icon. “She Who is Quick to Hear,” from the monastery of the Glorious Ascension in Resaca, Georgia, has been brought in pilgrimage to many North American Orthodox parishes. Weeping icons have also been reported in Texas and other states, and one from Russia recently completed a tour of the U.S. One of the latest and most dramatic cases has been “Our Lady of Cicero,” (Illinois), an icon on the iconostasis of St. George Antiochian parish in Chicago.


The Phenomenon


What happens when icons “weep?” In most cases, a moist dew-like substance begins to form on the icon and then begins to stream down it. On many weeping icons, the moisture develops in the eyes only, and then wells up like tears do in a persons eyes, before flowing down the icon in distinct streams. The substance itself is of an oil-like consistency, and at times has a distinctly fragrant odor to it.  It is akin to

the — myrrh that has flowed from the incorrupt bodies of certain deceased saints. (i.e.. St. Demetrios the Myrrhstreaming, and others). In the case of the weeping statues, however, that have oc­curred in the Roman Catholic tradition, it has been reported that the “tears” are of a watery consistency like natural tears.


The Icons

Weeping icons are of every conceivable type and origin. Some have been painted icons on iconstases, i.e., the Albanian and Antiochian icons in Chicago. Others have been reproductions. Some have been inexpensive paper prints mounted on wood. Some have been painted by accomplished icon­ographers, while others are in the non-Byzantine “Western” style. In fact, the Resaca icon is a common reproduction of poor artistic quality marketed by a heterodox monastic group! The fact of weeping statues in the Roman Catholic world adds to the diversity of styles in which the phenomenon exhibits itself.


To the best of my personal knowledge, all the recent weeping icons have been of the Theotokos. I have not heard of any of Christ, or of any other saint. If they do exist, it is certain that they are far less wide­spread than those of the Theotokos.


How are we to account for these facts? Assuming for the moment that the Phenomenon is a manifestation of the grace of God, the diversity of styles and forms may well be a reminder to us that God is not in the “art appreciation” business. While it is important that we decorate our churches with icons written accord­ing to the traditional canons of iconography, we know that God can and does use what is humble, despised, and unworthy to commu­nicate His grace. This undercuts our pride, stuffiness, and legalism, and our tendency to draw boundaries outside of which we presume God cannot be at work.


If such an answer must remain tentative, even more so is the one concerning the question of why weeping icons of the Theotokos are predominant. Certainly, the Theotokos is presented in the Church’s liturgy as the one who is our most fervent intercessor in heaven, a well-spring of compassion for the human race, our helper and aid. That her icons weep could be symbolic of her closeness and concern for human affairs. However then the following question arises: Would this not be true of her Son as well? Is He to be thought any less close and concerned with our affairs?


Perhaps it would be inappropriate to consider Christ as weeping now, since He has completed His suffer­ings once and for all for the sins of the world, and has entered into the Holy Place and is seated at the right hand of God. (See Hebrews 5:5-9, 10:12). In any case, we are dealing with a mystery, and all attempts at explanation must be considered provisional at best, (and perhaps impious at worst!)



The source Of The Phenomenon


Above, I mentioned the assumption that the weeping icons are a manifestation of Divine Grace. Can this, however, be assumed? There are skeptics who would have us believe that the whole thing is an exercise in fakery and trickery. They wish to search for the hidden reservoirs, pumps, and conduits that would prove it all to be a hoax. However, if such were true, there would have to be a widespread conspiracy of deception that reaches back for centuries shielding this arcane technology, as weeping icons have been known for that long. Such a theory stretches credulity far beyond the weeping icons themselves! And what would it all accomplish? Anyone who knows the life and history of the Orthodox Church must know that this is entirely ludicrous.


Another skeptical theory is that there is some natural process that explains it all. However, how does one account for the great diversity in materials found in the weeping icons (and statues). No one process could account for it all, when such dissimilar materials are involved. And why would the subject be restricted to the Theotokos? The constitution of her icons is no different than any other. And of course, such naturalistic theories have even more difficulty in explaining the healings, heavenly fragrances, and profound spiritual atmosphere many people experi­ence in the presence of the weeping icons. And what natural theory explains the myrrhbearing incorrupt bodies of many saints throughout the centuries?


Another explanation of the weep­ing icons is that they are a counterfeit spiritual phenomenon produced by demonic spirits. We certainly know from Scripture and the tradition of the Church that Satan is capable of producing spiritual manifestations that appear to be holy and good for the purpose of deceiving people. Could weeping icons be a spiritual deception? Those who would uphold this theory would argue that the phenomenon itself produces enthusiasm for the miraculous but few genuine conversions to Christ. They hold that weeping icons distract people from the real concerns of the Gospel (repentance, faith in Christ, growth in divine grace, the glorification of God) and amount to nothing more than a spiritual “sideshow” that cannot be from God.


However, some of these same objections could have been leveled against the ministry of Jesus himself His earthly ministry had exactly the effect of generating much enthusi­asm for the miraculous but very few actual conversions to God. Even his eleven most devoted converts deserted Him when the going became rough! So even if some people show an hysterical preoccu­pation with miracles coupled with a lack of interest in the heart of the Gospel, it does not mean that a particular spiritual manifestation is not from God.


Although it is not impossible that a particular manifestation of weeping could be a demonic counterfeit, such a suggestion must be weighed against the fact that the tradition of the Church as a whole has accepted this phenomenon as a blessing from God for centuries. This, together with the fact that the weeping icons have been a source of spiritual and physical blessings and healings for many believers, would seem to nullify the assertion that the phenome­non is demonically orchestrated.


However, it is important to recognize that belief in such manifesta­tions can never be equated with divine faith (i.e., belief in the central articles of the faith, trust in Jesus Christ, etc.). Christians may decide to leave aside or even reject phenomena like weeping icons without imperiling their souls. In such a case, one may simply miss out on a blessing that is offered by God.


The Weeping

One of the most frequently discussed aspects of this topic has been the question of what the weeping means. One common opin­ion is that the Virgin is weeping because of the increase in the sins of the world. However, the concept that the sins of the world have greatly increased in modern times is questionable. Is the Theotokos sad­der now than when thousands of Christians were being martyred by the pagan Romans? Do the sins of modern America eclipse the murder­ous persecutions of Stalin and Hitler’s genocide of the 1930’s and 40’s? Is there currently more cause for the Theotokos to weep than when millions of Orthodox Christ­ians were oppressed by hostile Islamic rulers for centuries? Or by Communism in recent years? Or to focus again on the American scene, are our modern sins greater than when millions of African Americans were forcibly enslaved in our land, or when genocide was being waged against Native Americans?


Certainly sexual immorality (with the resultant AIDS epidemic) has become increasingly acceptable in recent decades, but the other sins mentioned above were no less vicious. Perhaps the only other phenomenon that one could argue has uniquely grieved the heart of God and the Holy Theotokos in our time is the wholesale apostasy in many of the churches. This indeed should cause anyone who loves Christ to weep.


The immediate association con­nected with tears of course is sor­row. However, the fact that what comes from the eyes of the Theo­tokos is not a watery, tear-like substance is worthy of note. As mentioned above, the tears are of an oily type and consistency generally referred to as “myrrh” in the tradition of the Church. This myrrh is considered a healing balm: the fact that the Virgin weeps myrrh would then mean she is pouring out mercy and compassion for the human race in need of healing and grace. So, in this line of interpretation, the weeping is not so much a statement that the world is in a uniquely evil condition, but a reminder that the mercy, grace, and healing power of the Holy Spirit are still with us in the Church, by the intercessions of the Theotokos.


There are those who feel that the weeping should be seen in this con­text as a manifestation of grace to call those outside to return to the fold of the Orthodox Church. In the present American scene, the exclusive location of this phenomenon within the Orthodox Church may be a call to other Christians to recognize that Orthodoxy has remained grace-hearing, while other commu­nions have been anxious to rapidly jettison as much of the Christian faith and tradition as they can.


Tears are piv­otally associated in the tradition of the Church with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Those who strive for perfect prayer recognize genuine tears of com­punction (not emotional tears) as a great gift of the Spirit. In this connection, the weeping icons are a call for all of us to reawaken to the Spirit-filled and grace-bearing nature of the Orthodox Church.


 :    Conclusion

A general examination of the phenomenon of weeping icons leads to the conclusion that it is a manifestation of grace within the Church. The acceptance of weeping icons, (and, one must add, many other miraculous phenomena associated with icons), by the tradition of the Church indicates this is a divine activity and should generally be received as such. However, this is not to endorse every absurd and superstitious opinion that may be offered concerning each particular instance of the phenomenon. The Scriptures warn us to “test all things and to hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).


Ultimately, the significance of weeping icons must be measured from within the perspective of the entire tradition of the Church. An unusual preoccupation with such things cannot be a sign of spiritual health. While huge crowds will flock to view a weeping icon, many of the same people will be missing from the regular Sunday celebration of the Eucharist, and will have little or no interest in hearing the Word of God. Yet in every Liturgy, a greater miracle occurs as the Lord comes to us as our food and drink in the Eucharist. Moreover, the lives of many are miracu­lously transformed every day by the power of the Gospel. Yes these miracles, although far more significant, re­ceive few head­lines and no fan­fare. The weeping icons may indeed be a sign that the grace of God is with us and the Holy Theotokos cares for us, but if our interest in them eclipses the essentials of Christian faith, we have strayed into spiritual delusion.



Fr. Paul O‘Callaghan is pastor and dean of St. George Cathedral in Wichita, Kansas. He presently authors “Dialogue” for THE WORD.







Above you will find some photos of the stigmata and some bleeding statues. Just to give you an idea of the phenomena. Because this is such a debatable topic. The eyes, head, feed, wrist, and hands bleed. The wounds close up and most of the time bleed a couple times a day. Some have carried the stigmata for years before it disapears. Some of the weeping statues are just a few of the famous ones around the world. Paranormal yes we cannot explain this. The church is very quiet about these phenomenon and scientist sometimes have no answers for it.

Saints Preserve Us

Fortean Times

When the body of Pope John XXIII was dug up in March 2001, he was in good condition, despite having been dead for 37 years. The present pope decided his predecessor needed a new resting place to accommodate the large numbers of people who wanted to revere his tomb in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Furthermore, Pope John, son of peasants and known as “the people’s pope”, is on the road to sainthood; one of the preliminary steps in the process is for the potential saint’s body to be exhumed for suitable identification.

Although popes’ bodies are not fully embalmed, they are ‘preserved’ with formalin to prolong the period of public viewing. Funeral director Joseph Watts commented to the New York Daily News: “He was embalmed right away. It was done by doctors, nothing but the best, and he was placed in the perfect place, the Catacombs.” According to Watts, who has visited the tomb, the preservation of the pope’s body was probably the result of a number of factors. “The embalming fluid was formaldehyde-based with other chemicals… he was also in a triple-sealed casket… and that was in a marble crypt… There was no water or anything that could disintegrate [the body].” Vincenzo Pascali from the University of Rome said he doesn’t think Pope John’s preservation is unusual: “It’s more common than you might think. The body of the Holy Father was well protected. Oxygen couldn’t get into the coffin and any in there would have been used up very quickly… [in the construction of the caskets] they used materials like lead and zinc which oxidise and slow the decomposition process.”

With her usual reserve, the Catholic Church denied that there was anything miraculous about the preservation of the pope’s remains. The Vatican Information Service never used the words ‘miraculous’ or ‘incorrupt’ regarding the body of John XXIII. After the exhumation, the Vatican Information Service headlined its story with great caution, simply saying, “Body of Blessed John XXIII is Remarkably Well Preserved.” This is in keeping with the usual Catholic official policy which doesn’t rule out supernatural occurrences, but also doesn’t declare an event miraculous until every natural explanation is eliminated.

Because there have been many impeccable accounts of incorruptibility, many presumed saints were exhumed and re-interred. It soon became the custom to exhume all candidates for beatification or canonisation. Throughout the Middle Ages, churches vied for possession of incorrupt bodies, as they were a proven magnet for pilgrims (who, of course, brought offerings and donations). Despite its damp climate, mediæval Britain has nurtured a good number of saintly characters whose bodies didn’t decay, including Cuthbert, Werburgh, Waltheof and Guthlac. Amongst them were two royal sisters (Etheldreda and Withburga), a king (Edward the Confessor), a bishop (Hugh of Lincoln) and an archbishop of Canterbury (Alphege). At the Reformation, all their shrines were destroyed and the incorrupt body parts dispersed. When her shrine at Ely Cathedral was destroyed, the saintly Queen Etheldreda’s hand was preserved by a devout Catholic family. The still incorrupt hand was enshrined, some 400 years later, when a little Catholic Church was re-established in Ely. An apocryphal story relates how the present Queen, on a tour of the cathedral, met the crusty Irish priest of the little Catholic Church. She asked him if it wouldn’t be a ‘nice gesture’ to return the hand of St Etheldreda to the cathedral; he replied that it would be a nice gesture for her to return the cathedral to the Catholic church.

The accounts of saints’ bodies not decaying despite being buried for years continue to the present day. In her fascinating study The Incorruptibles (1977), Joan Carroll Cruz chronicles cases with the kind of credulous ‘objectivity’ for which Catholics are famous. The book abounds in amazing and gruesome details of preserved hearts, severed limbs, corpses that sit up and wink, and healing perfumes that seep from holy bones. She tells how the body of St Teresa of Avila didn’t rot even though it was buried in wet mud; and how the bodies of St Paschal Baylon, St Francis Xavier and St John of the Cross all remained fresh and intact despite being covered in sacks of quicklime for months. Cruz tells of Blessed Peter of Gubbio, a 14th century monk, and Venerable Maria Vela, a 17th century nun, whose voices were heard chanting with their brothers and sisters long after they were dead. St Clare of Montefalco, a holy nun from the 13th century, apparently declared to her sisters: “If you seek the cross of Christ, take my heart; there you will find the suffering Lord.” After her death, not only did her body remain incorrupt, but the sisters removed her heart and found, clearly imprinted on the cardiac tissue, figures representing a tiny crucifix complete with the five wounds of crucifixion.

Another extraordinary saint is Blessed Margaret of Metola. Margaret was a blind dwarf, hunchbacked and lame, but that didn’t stop her from living a life of heroic service to the poor. She died in 1330, but in 1558 her remains had to be transferred because her coffin was rotting away. At the exhumation, witnesses were amazed to find that like the coffin, the clothes had rotted, but Margaret’s crippled body hadn’t. With typical understatement, Cruz reports: “The body of Blessed Margaret, which has never been embalmed, is dressed in a Dominican habit, and lies under the high altar of the Church of St Domenico at Citta-di-Castello, Italy. The arms of the body are still flexible, the eyelashes are present, and the nails are in place on the hands and feet. The colouring of the body has darkened slightly and the skin is dry and somewhat hardened, but by all standards the preservation can be considered a remarkable condition, having endured for over six hundred and fifty years.”

It is easy enough to dismiss such stories as mediæval credulous nonsense, but two things make this untenable. First of all, the phenomena are among the most well-documented of any so-called miraculous occurrences. Among fortean ephemera, these prodigies are not only still visible, but the exhumations were witnessed with oaths and affidavits by ordinary working people as well as respectable professionals. Secondly, the accounts of incorruptible bodies are not merely mediæval; they are a part of Christian history from the first century right through to the 21st.

The two most amazing modern accounts are of St Bernadette (pictured above) and St Charbel Makhlouf. St Bernadette was the shepherd girl who saw the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes. She died in a convent at Nevers in 1879 and was buried in the chapel crypt. In 1909 a commission investigating her saintliness exhumed her body with the bishop and two doctors as official witnesses. They were joined by two stonemasons and two carpenters. All of them swore beforehand to tell the truth of their findings. They found that the saint’s body was incorrupt. A nun who had witnessed the burial 30 years before noted that the only change was that the dead nun’s habit was damp.

Bernadette was re-buried and exhumed again in 1919. As before, both civil and religious witnesses were gathered under oath. The doctors who examined the body wrote: “When the coffin was opened the body appeared to be absolutely intact and odourless… there was no smell of putrefaction and none of those present experienced any discomfort.” On a third exhumation in 1923, the body was found still to be in the same condition. At that point, the body was opened and the internal organs were found to be supple. After 46 years, the doctor reported, “the liver was soft and almost normal in consistency.”

St Charbel Makhlouf (pictured top of page), who died in 1898, was a Maronite monk from Lebanon. In his life, he seemed unremarkable except for his quiet and intense devotion. After his death, for 45 nights, strange lights appeared over his grave. Because 45 days is the traditional length of time for a body’s decomposition, the monastic authorities called for his exhumation. His body was found perfectly fresh, despite the fact that recent rains had reduced the cemetery to a quagmire and the body was found floating in a muddy pool. Charbel’s body was re-clothed and transferred to a wooden coffin, but a strange blood-like ‘oil’ kept exuding from his body… so much so that the clothes had to be changed twice a week. In 1927 – 29 years after his death – his still incorrupt body was examined and found to be totally flexible. It was then re-buried in a niche in the ancient abbey church. Pilgrims to the shrine in 1950 noticed liquid seeping from the tomb and the coffin was opened again. The body was still incorrupt but exuding the peculiar oily sweat; many miraculous cures have been attributed to this substance. The body remained incorrupt for 67 years, finally decaying in 1965.

Cruz reports no less than 102 stories of incorrupt bodies of Catholic saints. With so many supposedly incorrupt saints, it is no wonder the devotees of Pope John XXIII suspected that the preservation of his remains might be a sign from heaven. Although the Catholic authorities do not deny the possibility of miraculous preservation of bodies, neither do they place much stock in it. According to Rome, the strange phenomenon may confirm holiness but, on its own, the unnatural preservation of bodies does not, automatically, prove holiness. The authorities, quite sensibly, are more interested in the person’s virtue.

The phenomenon raises many questions. If unnatural preservation is, indeed, a sign of saintliness, why aren’t all saints supernaturally preserved? Bernadette and Thérèse of Lisieux were both 19th century French girls who went into a convent and died of consumption at an early age. St Bernadette’s body was incorrupt but St Thérèse’s body, at her exhumation, was reduced to a skeleton in the normal way. Why should one saint be incorrupt and not the other?

The Catholic authorities are right to be cautious in equating incorruptibility with holiness; a case in point concerns the body of Cardinal Shuster (1880–1954), a former archbishop of Milan, which was discovered to be incorrupt after 31 years in the grave. The 1985 exhumation caused some embarrassment as the cardinal was anything but a saint; he was a friend of Mussolini and supported fascism and Italy’s war with Abyssinia. Nor does the phenomenon of incorrupt bodies necessarily prove the claims of Catholicism. When the famous yogi Paramahansa Yogananda died in California, in 1952, his unembalmed body had not decayed and was said to emit a beautiful fragrance. Perhaps there are many incorrupt bodies of holy Protestants, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists, but we’ll never know because these religions don’t have the unusual custom of digging up their suspected saints. [Editor’s note: There are, however, several incorrupt bodies of Buddhist monks which are preserved as objects of veneration. See FT78:9, 157:23].

There are other quirky problems surrounding the phenomenon of incorrupt bodies of saints. While there is definitely something weird happening, it is also true that the faithful have perpetuated and sometimes helped the miracles along. In her defining book, Cruz agrees that some of the incorrupt bodies were later embalmed; others may have been incorrupt for hundreds of years only to decay once they were moved, suggesting that the airtight original container may have preserved the body. Other ‘incorrupt’ bodies have been spliced together with bits of string and wire; and darkened faces and hands covered with silver or wax, ostensibly for cosmetic purposes.

Despite the irrational elements and the ‘pious frauds’, there is enough evidence of remarkable occurrences surrounding the incorruptibles. St Isidore and St John of the Cross are two final examples which illustrate the unsettling events and show that, despite all other explanations, the incorruptibles are probably one of the best documented examples of the ‘miraculous’. St Isidore was a farm labourer who died in the year 1130. He was buried directly in the earth without tomb or coffin. Forty years later, prompted by a dream, his body was exhumed to move it to a more worthy tomb. An eyewitness recorded that it “‘looked as if it had just died although it had been lying in the earth for 40 years.” In 1622, the body was exhumed a second time before many witnesses. Once again, it was perfectly fresh and emitted “a heavenly odour”. One of the witnesses was the king’s minister, who signed the document attesting what they had all seen.

When St John of the Cross died in 1591, he was buried in a vault beneath the floor of the church. When the tomb was opened, nine months later, the body was fresh and intact; and when a finger was amputated to use as a relic, the body bled as a living person would have done. When the tomb was opened for a second time nine months after that, the body was still fresh, despite the fact that it had been covered with a layer of quicklime. At further exhumations in 1859 and 1909, the body was found to be still fresh. The last exhumation was in 1955, when the body – after nearly 400 years – was still “moist and flexible” although the skin “was slightly discoloured”.

As with most fortean phenomena, the existence of incorrupt bodies has not been studied seriously by the scientific community. As the phenomenon also exists outside Catholicism, it may be that in a devoutly religious person (of whatever persuasion), the practice of prayer and meditation is merged with the physical discipline of asceticism and abstinence. Perhaps the physical and the spiritual become intermingled; perhaps, in some cases, this interpenetration of the spiritual with the physical so overwhelms the person’s body as to preserve it from natural corruption. How else may we begin to explain why some bodies do not decay, despite the fact that the individual has died of a noxious disease, was not embalmed and was buried for decades in damp conditions with other corpses that rotted naturally? When we understand how the mind and body work together, we may also start to understand why some characters wind up being both dead as a doornail and fresh as a daisy.


St Cecilia The saint is buried beneath the high altar of the Basilica of St Cecilia in Rome. While the body is not on display, a sculpture by Stefano Moderno portrays the saint’s body as it was discovered at the second exhumation in 1599. (pictured below)

St Etheldreda The incorrupt hand of St Etheldreda can be viewed in St Etheldreda’s Catholic Church in Ely, Cambridgeshire.

St Edward the Confessor Thirty-six years after his death in 1066, Edward the Confessor’s body was found to be incorrupt. In 1163, the king was exhumed again and the body was still incorrupt, but in a third exhumation in 1269, only a skeleton was found. Edward the Confessor’s tomb is in Westminster Abbey.

St Clare of Montefalco The saint’s incorrupt body and her strange heart are enshrined at the Church of the Holy Cross in Montefalco, Italy.

St Rita of Cascia The incorrupt body of this “patron saint of hopeless cases” can be seen at the Basilica of St Rita in Cascia, Italy. She died in 1457.

St John Vianney The body of the parish priest of the village of Ars can be seen at the Basilica at Ars, in France.

St Catherine Labouré This saint, who saw apparitions of the Virgin Mary, was incorrupt after being buried in a damp vault for 56 years. Her still incorrupt body is on display at the chapel in Rue du Bac, Paris. (Pictured below)

St Bernadette Her incorrupt body can be viewed in its glass casket in the chapel of the convent of St Gildard, Nevers, France. The



Mystical Stigmata

To decide merely the facts without deciding whether or not they may be explained by supernatural causes, history tells us that many ecstatics bear on hands, feet, side, or brow the marks of the Passion of Christ with corresponding and intense sufferings. These are called visible stigmata. Others only have the sufferings, without any outward marks, and these phenomena are called invisible stigmata.


Their existence is so well established historically that, as a general thing, they are no longer disputed by unbelievers, who now seek only to explain them naturally. Thus a free-thinking physician, Dr. Dumas, professor of religious psychology at the Sorbonne, clearly admits the facts (Revue des Deux Mondes, 1 May, 1907), as does also Dr. Pierre Janet (Bulletin de l'Institut psychologique international, Paris, July, 1901).

St. Catherine of Siena at first had visible stigmata but through humility she asked that they might be made invisible, and her prayer was heard. This was also the case with St. Catherine de' Ricci, a Florentine Dominican of the sixteenth century, and with several other stigmatics. The sufferings may be considered the essential part of visible stigmata; the substance of this grace consists of pity for Christ, participation in His sufferings, sorrows, and for the same end--the expiation of the sins unceasingly committed in the world. If the sufferings were absent, the wounds would be but an empty symbol, theatrical representation, conducing to pride. If the stigmata really come from God, it would be unworthy of His wisdom to participate in such futility, and to do so by a miracle.

But this trial is far from being the only one which the saints have to endure: "The life of stigmatics," says Dr. Imbert, "is but a long series of sorrows which arise from the Divine malady of the stigmata and end only in death: (op. cit. infra, II, x). It seems historically certain that ecstatics alone bear the stigmata; moreover, they have visions which correspond to their rôle of co-sufferers, beholding from time to time the blood-stained scenes of the Passion.

With many stigmatics these apparitions were periodical, e.g., St. Catherine de' Ricci, whose ecstasies of the Passion began when she was twenty (1542), and the Bull of her canonization states that for twelve years they recurred with minute regularity. The ecstasy lasted exactly twenty-eight hours, from Thursday noon till Friday afternoon at four o'clock, the only interruption being for the saint to receive Holy Communion. Catherine conversed aloud, as if enacting a drama. This drama was divided into about seventeen scenes. On coming out of the ecstasy the saint's limbs were covered with wounds produced by whips, cords etc.

Dr. Imbert has attempted to count the number of stigmatics, with the following results:

1. None are known prior to the thirteenth century. The first mentioned is St. Francis of Assisi, in whom the stigmata were of a character never seen subsequently; in the wounds of feet and hands were excrescences of flesh representing nails, those on one side having round back heads, those on the other having rather long points, which bent back and grasped the skin. The saint's humility could not prevent a great many of his brethren beholding with their own eyes the existence of these wonderful wounds during his lifetime as well as after his death. The fact is attested by a number of contemporary historians, and the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis is kept on 17 September.

2. Dr. Imbert counts 321 stigmatics in whom there is every reason to believe in a Divine action. He believes that others would be found by consulting the libraries of Germany, Spain, and Italy. In this list there are 41 men.

3. There are 62 saints or blessed of both sexes of whom the best known (numbering twenty-six) were:


4. There were 20 stigmatics in the nineteenth century. The most famous were:


  • Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824), Augustinian;
  • Elizabeth Canori Mora (1774-1825), Trinitarian tertiary;
  • Anna Maria Taïgi (1769-1837);
  • Maria Dominica Lazzari (1815-48);
  • Marie de Moerl (1812-68) and Louise Lateau (1850-83), Franciscan tertiaries.

Of these, Marie de Moerl spent her life at Kaltern, Tyrol (1812-68). At the age of twenty she became an ecstatic, and ecstasy was her habitual condition for the remaining thirty-five years of her life. She emerged from it only at the command, sometimes only mental, of the Franciscan who was her director, and to attend to the affairs of her house, which sheltered a large family. Her ordinary attitude was kneeling on her bed with hands crossed on her breast, and an expression of countenance which deeply impressed spectators. At twenty-two she received the stigmata. On Thursday evening and Friday these stigmata shed very clear blood, drop by drop, becoming dry on the other days. Thousands of persons saw Marie de Moerl, among them Görres (who describes his visit in his "Mystik", II, xx), Wiseman, and Lord Shrewsbury, who wrote a defence of the ecstatic in his letters published by "The Morning Herald" and "The Tablet" (cf. Boré, op. cit. infra).

Louise Lateau spent her life in the village of Bois d'Haine, Belgium (1850-83). The graces she received were disputed even by some Catholics, who as a general thing relied on incomplete or erroneous information, as has been established by Canon Thiery ("Examen de ce qui concerne Bois d'Haine", Louvain, 1907). At sixteen she devoted herself to nursing the cholera victims of her parish, who were abandoned by most of the inhabitants. Within a month she nursed ten, buried them, and in more than one instance bore them to the cemetery. At eighteen she became an ecstatic and stigmatic, which did not prevent her supporting her family by working as a seamstress. Numerous physicians witnessed her painful Friday ecstasies and established the fact that for twelve years she took no nourishment save weekly communion. For drink she was satisfied with three or four glasses of water a week. She never slept, but passed her nights in contemplation and prayer, kneeling at the foot of her bed.


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 Saviour 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 admit 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 favour of natural explanations are illusory. They are sometimes arbitrary hypotheses, being equivalent to mere assertions, sometimes arguments based 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 or 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 coloured, but this is a very imperfect imitation. Moreover, no explanation has been offered of three circumstances presented by the stigmata of the saints:


  1. 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 odour. 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 odour, 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 hypothesis, analogous facts in the natural order must be produced, namely wounds produced apart from a religious idea. This had not been done.

With regard to the flow of blood it has been objected that there have been bloody sweats, but Dr. Lefebvre, professor of medicine at Louvain, has replied that such cases as have been examined by physicians were not due to a moral cause, but to a specific malady. Moreover, it has often been proved by the microscope that the red liquid which oozes forth is not blood; its colour is due to a particular substance, and it does not proceed from a wound, but is due, like sweat, to a dilatation of the pores of the skin. But it may be objected that we unduly minimize the power of the imagination, since, joined to an emotion, it can produce sweat; and as the mere idea of having an acid bon-bon in the mouth produces abundant saliva, so, too, the nerves acted upon by the imagination might produce the emission of a liquid and this liquid might be blood. The answer is that in the instances mentioned there are glands (sudoriparous and salivary) which in the normal state emit a special liquid, and it is easy to understand that the imagination may bring about this secretion; but the nerves adjacent to the skin do not terminate in a gland emitting blood, and without such an organ they are powerless to produce the effects in question. What has been said of the stigmatic wounds applies also to the sufferings. There is not a single experimental proof that imagination could produce them, especially in violent forms.


Another explanation of these phenomena is that the patients produce the wounds either fraudulently or during attacks of somnambulism, unconsciously. But physicians have always taken measures to avoid these sources of error, proceeding with great strictness, particularly in modern times. Sometimes the patient has been watched night and day, sometimes the limbs have been enveloped in sealed bandages. Mr. Pierre Janet placed on one foot of a stigmatic a copper shoe with a window in it through which the development of the wound might be watched, while it was impossible for anyone to touch it (op. cit. supra).