Stigmata is the plural of the Greek word stigma meaning “mark,” and originates from the line at the end of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians where he says, “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus on my body” (Gal 6:17). [Paul implies he bears the marks of his apostolic labors, such as the floggings and stonings that mark him as belonging to the Christ who suffered.]
In Church use stigmata refers to the wounds, scars, or skin abrasions that appear on the flesh of individuals. They correspond to the wounds suffered by Christ in the crucifixion. Stigmata are accompanied by pain.
Numerous instances are recorded of this charism having been bestowed on persons of unusual holiness, more than three hundred in all.
St. Francis of Assisi was the first recorded stigmatic in Christian history. For over fifty years Padre Pio of Pietrelcina of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin reported stigmata which were studied by several 20th century physicians. The observations were reportedly unexplainable and the wounds never became infected.
A high percentage (perhaps over 80%) of all stigmatics are women.
The majority of the stigmata are external, visible and very painful. There are other marks of Our Lord’s Passion which are not visible, for example, those of St. Catherine of Siena, who requested that they not be evident. These are called invisible stigmata and are equally painful. (6:34)