STIGMATA by Ted Harrison


A Medieval Phenomenon in a Modern Age
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 An intriguing look at an unusual religious and medical phenomenon. Harrison, a former religious affairs correspondent for the BBC, investigates historical and contemporary reports of stigmata, the strange bleeding marks that are said to resemble the wounds suffered by Jesus at the Crucifixion. Having interviewed both physicians and those who suffer from the stigmata, he tells us that the marks appear most often on the hands and feet but can appear as stripes on the back, where Jesus was supposed to have been scourged, or on the side where, according to the Gospels, he was pierced by a spear. The first documented case of the lesions happened to St. Francis of Assisi in 1224. Since then, it is estimated, 300 or more people have suffered the wounds. Are these the result of excessive religious fervor and mental imbalance manifesting itself physically? Or are the wounds a gift from God, a sign of blessing given to the truly faithful? Almost all the reported cases have come from poor Catholics living in Mediterranean countries. Officially, the Vatican admits the possibility that the marks are miraculous in origin while looking skeptically on any individual case. Medical science has scrutinized reported cases for 200 years. According to the scientific view, the wounds are the product of emotional stress. Women afflicted outnumber men by a ratio of seven to one. The wounds are more common in religious communities and monasteries. Recent years have witnessed an increase of cases in England and Latin America. The phenomenon is no longer confined to Catholics. And the United States has produced the first non-Caucasian sufferers as Native Americans and African-Americans have experienced the phenomenon. The author believes that global conditions (poverty, stress, a rise in charismatic Christianity) are right for an increase in reported cases. Fascinating and well told, this tale of religious fervor will appeal to believers and skeptics alike.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-312-11372-2
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1994