Philosophy of Religion

Chapter  5 Arguments for the Existence of God based on Experience


 What are stigmata and are they miracles?  Are they violations of the laws of nature caused by a supernatural being?  Do they have alternative naturalistic explanations?

Stigmata are bodily marks, sores, or sensations of pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus. The term originates from the line at the end of Saint Paul's Letter to the Galatians where he says, "I bear on my body the stígmata of Jesus" - stigmata is the plural of the Greek word στίγμα, stígma, a mark or brand such as might have been used for identification of an animal or slave. An individual bearing stigmata is referred to as a stigmatic.

The causes of stigmata may vary from case to case, though supernatural causes have never been proven. Stigmata are primarily associated with the Roman Catholic faith. Many reported stigmatics are members of Catholic religious orders. The majority of reported stigmatics are female.[1]--- WIKIPEDIA at

 "The stigmata are wounds believed to duplicate the wounds of Christ's crucifixion that appear on the hands and feet, and sometimes on the side and head, of a person. The fact that the stigmata appear differently on its victims is strong evidence that the wounds are not genuinely miraculous (Wilson)."--The skeptical view.

Although we live in a scientific age, there has been a resurgence in magical thinking, resulting in a revival of religious fundamentalism, the rise of the "New Age" movement, and an increase in "miracle" claims. The appeal is widespread, although it may be especially strong among the economically disadvantaged, where human despair and superstition may coexist. (The Santo phenomena, for example, takes place in the midst of Portuguese immigrant families.)

People seem to hunger for some tangible religious experience, and wherever there is such profound want there is the opportunity for what skeptics call "pious fraud." Money is rarely the primary motive, the usual impetus being to renew the faith of believers and confound the doubters. An end-justifies-the- means attitude may prevail, but the genuinely religious and the devoutly skeptical may agree on one thing, that the truth must serve as both the means and the end. Ultimately, neither science nor religion can be served by a deceptive approach. ----Joe Nickell, Ph.D, is Senior Research Fellow of the international Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) and author or editor of sixteen books on investigation including Looking for a Miracle (Prometheus Books)--  at

Cases of Reported Stigmata that are Not Supernatural in Origin:

The Stigmata of Katya Rivas by Joe Nickell

Worcestor Bishop Releases Preliminary Findings in Audrey Santo Case

1.       The Stigmata of Padre Pio

4.       The Stigmata of Audrey Santo by Joe Nickell  Miracles or Deception

5.       The Stigmata of Senora Rivas

6.       The Stigmata of Lilian Bernas

Additional Resources:


The Stigmata of Katya Rivas by Joe Nickell

 CONTACT: Kevin Christopher
 Phone: (716) 636-1425 ext. 224
 Die-hard Skeptic Bears Stigmata
 AMHERST, NY (June 15, 2000)-Joe Nickell, senior research fellow of the Committee of the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal
(CSICOP), claims that he himself bore stigmata during his research into these miraculous wounds for an upcoming TV documentary. He gives a
less-than-miraculous explanation in his "Investigative Files" column for July/August 2000 issue of Skeptical Inquirer.
 There has been a recent revival of media coverage and interest in the miraculous appearance of these wounds on believers, which imitate the
crucifixion injuries of Christ. Film and television events include the motion picture Stigmata (1999) and a major segment of the Fox TV documentary "Signs
from God (July 28, 1999)." Last year, the Roman Catholic Church beatified famous Italian stigmatic Padre Pio.
 The first stigmatic was the medieval Italian saint, Francis of Assisi. After forty days of fasting and prayer on Mount Averno in 1224, St. Francis had a
vision of Christ and five wounds then appeared on the saint's body-four crucifixion wounds and a fifth wound on his side representing the spear
thrust of a Roman soldier recorded in the Gospels. Stigmata have been  appearing on select faithful ever since.
 Skeptics and faithful alike have questioned stigmata claims, and Nickell notes that there have been several instances of fraud in the long history of
stigmata. In 1543, during a life-threatening illness, stigmatic Magdalena de la Cruz confessed that her stigmata had been deliberate deceptions. Maria de
la Visitacion-"The Holy Nun of Lisbon"-was discovered by a sister nun painting fake wounds on her hands. Says Nickell, "Although initially defended
by doctors in 1587, she was brought before the Inquisition, whereupon her wounds were scrubbed and the coloration washed off, revealing 'unblemished
flesh beneath.'"
Skeptics do not necessarily attribute all stigmatic cases to fraud, but they are unanimous that these wounds are natural, rather than miraculous. Nickell,
asked to appear on a TV program about stigmatic Katya Rivas, decided to test whether he could reproduce convincing stigmata on himself prior to his
appearance. Noting the typical nature of stigmatic wounds in the case of Rivas and others, he found that he could reproduce sizeable stigmata with
very slight cuts on the back of his hand.  These cuts were so small that they could easily be covered by a cosmetic ointment and healed very quickly,
consistent with the fact that all the stigmatic wounds ever examined by physicians have been superficial.
 Nickell concludes, "My examination of the video showing Katya Rivas' alleged stigmatization and the simple experiments I performed persuaded me that not
only could her stigmata not be authenticated, but, indeed-like other instances of the alleged phenomenon throughout history-they cannot be distinguished from a pious hoax."


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