The Stigmata


Almost as much has been written about the charism of the Stigmata as that of Padre Pio's Mass. No biographical source omitted his having this share in the Passion of Our Lord.

Padre Pio received the invisible Stigmata in Pietrelcina on September 20, 1915, while he was in the garden of his home, and the visible ones at San Giovanni Rotondo on the same date in three years later. Fr. Carty in  Who is Padre Pio? says that "this did not happen in the case of the seventy other stigmatists that the Church has so far canonized. Gemma Galgani was the latest of these to be so honored." [p. 8.]

Only his confessor, Don Salvatore Panullo, knew the complete story, and his account of it was sent to Rome.

Again Fr. Carty:

" . . . on Friday, the 20th of September 1918, there happened to him an event that not only changed his whole life, but that singled him out from the rest of humanity. He was praying in his stall in the choir when suddenly the monks heard a piercing cry. On running to find the cause of it they came upon Padre Pio lying unconscious on the floor of the choir, his hands, his feet and his side marked with deep, bleeding wounds. He was carried to his cell where he gradually recovered consciousness, begging his brothers to keep his secret. He had worn invisible stigmata for three years, and now they were there for all to see.  . . . He has been the subject of endless and often painful medical examinations, and has undergone every kind of supposedly healing treatment, but the wounds remain open and completely free from infection. He loses about a cupful of blood every day from his side, which is covered at all times with a linen cloth to prevent the endless staining of his garments. He wears brown half gloves on his hands excepting when he is saying mass. Nobody knows how much Padre Pio suffers from his wounds, but his rather halting gait is evidence enough of his constant awareness of his trans pierced feet." [p. 9]

In From the Housetops magazine we read:

"The fact that he is the only priest who bore the wounds of Christ (Saint Francis was a brother) indicates the tremendous likeness he had to our Saviour and how much he was loved by Him.  . . .

"Of all the mystical gifts with which Padre Pio was endowed, the most famous and fantastic was the Stigmata. He was the first priest of approximately three hundred other individuals (not all canonized) recorded in Church history to bear the five bleeding wounds of our Crucified Lord. Someone once in his naivete asked the Padre whether or not the wounds of the Stigmata gave him any pain. His witty response was something to the effect that they were not put there merely as a decoration. The pain was indeed constant, and it intensified when he would say Mass. He suffered the most during Holy Week and the wounds would bleed more profusely on Thursday through Saturday. In a private letter to his superior, but not revealed until after his death, Padre Pio also reported that he experienced the Scourging and the Crowning of Thorns about once a week." [pp. 9-10.]

In a letter dated October 22, 1918, written by Padre Pio to his spiritual advisor describing the mystical events, which took place on September 20, 1918, the Saint wrote:

"On the morning of the twentieth of last month, in the choir, after I had celebrated Mass, I yielded to drowsiness similar to a sweet sleep. All the internal and external senses and even the very faculties of my soul were immersed in indescribable stillness. Absolute silence surrounded and invaded me. I was suddenly filled with great peace and abandonment, which effaced everything else and caused a lull in the turmoil. All this happened in a flash. While this was taking place, I saw before me a mysterious person similar to the one I had seen on the evening of 5 August (the date he received the Transverberation, the mystical piercing of his heart). The only difference was that his hands and feet and sides were dripping blood. The sight terrified me and what I felt at that moment is indescribable. I thought I should die and really should have died if the Lord had not intervened and strengthened my heart, which was about to burst out of my chest. The vision disappeared and I became aware that my hands, feet and side were dripping blood."  [Ibid., p. 10.]

It is known that his hands were pierced completely through with wounds that were circular and about two centimeters in diameter, making it difficult for him to write. His feet, which were trans pierced bore similar wounds to those of his hands, so his walk was slow and labored. He had to have his sandals replaced by shoes made of soft cloth. His superiors only permitted him to remove the brown gloves he was commanded to wear on his hands while he was saying Mass. He had a wound on his side, which bled more than the other Stigmata. Extending from beneath his arm to the center of his chest, it bore the shape of an inverted cross. When asked about the pains, he said they were a test of Divine will since "all souls who love Christ must conform to their external Model."

It is worth noting that while doctors and scientists were baffled, the simple faithful were not as they looked to the faith and its reasons: As From the Housetops put it, miracles cannot be explained in a laboratory. The wounds were resistant to medical treatment, and remained unchanged despite every attempt of physicians to heal them or even alleviate the pain. Of most especial note is the sweet fragrance that came from the wounds: ordinarily untreated injuries of this nature would emit a stench. Some would detect the presence of flowers, and others, that of incense.

Now we must stress that Padre Pio did not, as he ought not in keeping with Tradition and saintly wisdom, advertise his receiving the Stigmata. But some secrets are just too hard to keep apparently.

What is the Church's approach in this matter?

Father Carty in
Padre Pio, the Stigmatist tells us.

"The Church is consistently distrustful of such outward manifestations, which are often and rightly branded as hysteria. The Father Provincial of the Capuchins of Foggia had the wounds photographed and sent to the Vatican for the record and for instructions, and invited Doctor Luigi Romanelli of Barletta to pass on the medical aspects of the case. There followed for the next few years what must have been the equivalent of a prolonged martyrdom for Padre Pio. Besides the constant pain he suffered from his wounds, he was repeatedly subjected to the most persistent and trying medical investigations as well as to every variety of attempted cure. Nothing, however changed the character of the wounds. They never closed, they never stopped bleeding, neither did they ever become infected, whether they were covered with unguents and air-tight bandages or the dark woolen socks and mittens that he has worn for many years.   . . . Padre Pio never talks about himself and has never been known to complain . . . The Church, being well versed in mass psychology, has silenced Padre Pio everywhere but in the confessional, which has for years been his only battleground. He cannot write letters and he cannot preach, but although this may seem to some a harsh and unnecessary restriction, no one can fail to observe the miraculous abundance of his harvest of souls . . " [pp. 12-13.]

Mary Ingoldsby, in her biography of the Saint,
Padre Pio: His Life and Mission, offers us a further perspective, a brief nature of Stigmata in general, before delving into that of Padre Pio, how Rome proceeded, the findings of two doctors, one a professed atheist, the other a pious Catholic.

On page 137, she begins as follows:

"During the first meeting on the spirituality of Padre Pio, held in San Giovanni Rotondo in 1972  . . .  one of the most interesting lectures was delivered by Father George Cruchon, SJ, professor of Pastoral Psychology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome! Professor Cruchon made ample use of the reports submitted by the various doctors who were sent to examine Padre Pio during the year immediately following the appearance of those painful wounds in his flesh.  . . .

"Before going on to consider the medical evidence itself, Father Cruchon pointed out that it is only in the souls of a very few privileged persons that love for Jesus crucified becomes so strong as to seek identification with His sufferings. Even in the case of souls who experience such intense spiritual suffering, there are very few instances in which it is accompanied by external marks or wounds. Padre Pio makes it clear to us in his writings that while he ardently desired to suffer for Christ and with Him, he never had the slightest desire to see those sufferings externalized in his flesh and made visible to those around him. He yearned to be identified with Christ in His ministry to souls and in His supreme sacrifice, but he certainly had no desire to receive the Stigmata. In a letter to Padre Benedetto in October 1918, a month after the appearance of those bleeding wounds, he revealed how earnestly he wished to be relieved, not of the pain which he gladly endured, but of 'these external signs, which are an indescribable and unbearable humiliation to me'.

"The Church is normally very cautious in recognising miracles or extraordinary phenomena in those whom popular opinion is quick to consider Saints and wonder-workers. Out of more than 300 cases of alleged stigmatization, she has not recognised more than about sixty. It was quite natural that the sensational reports emanating in 1919 from San Giovanni Rotondo and the furor which resulted around the person of Padre Pio at the time should lead to rigorous investigation by ecclesiastical authority. It was also natural that more than one illustrious member of the medical profession should be sent to examine the phenomenon.

"The first to be entrusted  . . . was Dr Luigi Romanelli, chief surgeon at the civilian hospital in Barletta, near Bari. Five times in the course of a little over a year, from May 1919 to July 1920, Dr. Romanelli who was a fervent Catholic, examined Padre Pio at the request of the Capuchin General. Apart from the scientific report on his findings, he expressed to the local superiors the happiness he experienced close to Padre Pio, when he was favoured like many others with an inebriating perfume. He was proud to be the first doctor to observe what he described as 'that living miracle' and he added that he should therefore 'like to be kept in mind whenever Padre Pio might be in need of earthly assistance' . . .

"Dr. Romanelli went on to state in his report that these could not be classified as wounds of an ordinary nature, for even a person with no medical skill whatever, he said, could see that they showed no sign either of festering or of the healing process which ordinarily sets in in the case of a healthy wound. He utterly excluded the possibility of self-inflicted wounds, which would follow the natural course either of suppuration or healing. Padre Pio's wounds, he stated, had remained in the very same state over a period of many months, a phenomenon which human science could not explain.

"Towards the end of July 1920, at the request of Father Venantius of Lisle-en-Rigault, General of the Capuchins, an eminent doctor from Rome University, Professor Amico Bignami, carried out a further medical examination on Padre Pio, after which he too submitted a detailed report on the friar's general health and on his wounds. His description of the five wounds corresponded in the main to that already submitted by Dr. Romanelli. He found that Padre Pio had been using iodine as a disinfectant which, as the young friar himself told the doctor, helped to arrest the bleeding. Dr. Bignami, unlike Dr. Romanelli, was a professed atheist. He was perplexed by the nature of the wounds and suggested three possible explanations: (a) that they were produced artificially by Padre Pio himself; (b) that they were caused by a disease (unspecified); (c) that they were partly artificial and partly the result of a disease. He concluded that there was nothing to show that they had been produced by anything but disease or the use of some chemical such as tincture of iodine.

"At the end of his examination Dr. Bignami ordered the Provincial to forbid Padre Pio the use of any medicines and to take all such things away from his room. Moreover, before leaving San Giovanni Rotondo, he left instructions that the wounds were to be bandaged and sealed in the presence of several witnesses who were to examine the seals each morning for eight consecutive days to make sure they had not been tampered with. At the end of this period the witnesses were to remove the bandages and report whether the wounds had healed or not. Three exemplary Capuchins were chosen for this delicate task. Padre Gerardo Di Flumeri, in a note on the stigmata, tells us in detail how Dr. Bignami's instructions were carried out and gives us the text of the report submitted by the three Capuchins at the end of the eight days.

We, the undersigned, state under oath that we received from Padre Pietro of Ischitella [Provincial] the order to bandage the wounds of the Capuchin friar, Pio of Pietrelcina, and that we observed: (a) that the wounds remained in the same state during the eight days, except for the last day, on which they turned bright red; (b) each day, as can be seen from the bandages we have kept, all five wounds bled. On the final day the bleeding was more profuse, so that while Padre Pio was saying Mass we were obliged to send a fresh bandage to the altar to stem the blood which was streaming down the back of his hands. It is to be noted that in bandaging his wounds we used no medicine. Although we trusted Padre Pio completely, in order to forestall any suspicions we removed the bottle of iodine he kept in his room.

" . . . In October 1919 the Capuchin General arranged for a further medical examination, this time by Dr. Giorgio Festa, who made his first examination of the stigmatized friar in October and sent his report about a month later to the General.  . . . He . . . remarked that Padre Pio seemed transformed whenever the conversation turned to spiritual topics and he was struck by the young friar's utter sincerity. He saw how little food he ate and noted his capacity, despite this fact, to devote a great many hours to hearing confessions and listening to visitors.

"Articles by well-known neuropathologists at that time pointed out that hysteria can produce wounds or lesions of the skin. There were those who maintained that except for St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catherine of Siena, most cases of alleged stigmatization could be accounted for in this way. Dr. Festa, who examined Padre Pio, refuted emphatically the hysteria theory. As a result of his long interviews and close questioning of Padre Pio he stated that he found complete balance and perfect harmony between the functions of his nervous system and his mental faculties.  . . . Dr. Festa's final word, in view of the medical evidence, is that the origin of Padre Pio's bleeding wounds is something which we are far from being able to explain.  . . . Leaving aside the scientific reports submitted by these eminent doctors, there are numerous witnesses to the genuine and persistent existence of those bleeding wounds. During his public Mass over several decades, when devout crowds pressed around the altar, the wounds in his hands were clearly visible when he raised them during the Canon. Many devout residents in San Giovanni Rotondo have frequently spoken of seeing his half-gloved hands stained with blood. We have, moreover, the reliable testimony of a number of the friars who assisted him at the altar and during the day and who were accustomed to the sight of those wounded hands. On some occasions during his last years they also saw the wounds in his feet and side, when he required assistance in his cell." [pp. 138-140.]