In the movie Stigmata,
a strange mixture of stigmata, exorcism, the intrigues of the Vatican
and the suppression of secret documents are all mingled into one, to
come up with an explosive story.
as the movie makes clear, are normally only found on the most devout
Christians. Nevertheless, the presence of stigmata on the body is a
rather recent phenomenon; its presence is reported in less than half
of Christianity’s life.
No stigmatics are known prior to the 13th 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. Afterwards, stigmatics have had the “normal” signs
of the Passion: bleeding hands and feets, faces, etc. Some 300-odd stigmatics
have been identified.
of the best known stigmatics of the 20th century was Padre Pio da Pietrelcina
Born in 1887, he was tutored privately until the age of 15 when he joined
the Capuchin Friars where he took the Franciscan dress and the name
Brother Pio. After a childhood typified by ill health, on September
20, 1918, the five wounds resembling Christ's crucifixion appeared on
Padre Pio's body.
On a letter he wrote describing how the wounds first appeared, he talked
of a drowsiness that overcame him after celebrating Mass one morning.
The drowsiness was accompanied with a great peace and indescribable
stillness. At that time he saw a person whose hands, feet and side were
dripping with blood. As he woke from the vision he realized his own
hands, feet and side were bleeding accompanied with much pain. Padre
Pio bore these wounds for the next 50 years, until several days before
he died on September 23, 1968.
On top of the suffering due to his health and stigmata, Padre Pio is
said to have suffered from the mental and physical attacks of Satan.
One day in July of 1964 the monks found Padre Pio on the floor of his
room so badly beaten up he could not say Mass for several days after
that. He also had a severe cut on his forehead that required stitches.
In another letter he wrote that Satan beat him continually, filled his
mind with diabolical suggestions, thoughts of despair, and distrust
in God. Apparently, when his dead body was examined by doctors they
found it to be without a drop of blood left in it. The other strange
thing they found was that his wounds had completely healed without even
leaving a scar.
existence of stigmata is so well established that they are no longer
disputed by unbelievers. Physicians do not succeed in curing these wounds
with remedies. On the other hand, unlike natural wounds, those of stigmatics
do not give forth a fetid odour. It is powerful evidence that the wounds
are not self-inflicted, as in this case, the wound would be a normal.
Sometimes these wounds even give forth perfumes, for example those of
Juana of the Cross, a Franciscan prioress of Toledo, and Lucy of Narni.
Sceptics find stigmata difficult to deal with. Do they have a supernatural
cause, or is it evidence of mind over body? Either of these is unpopular
with sceptics, who prefer the hard nature of reality, whereby the power
of mind or a “Global Mind” – God – is a slave
unit of matter. Whereas some stigmatics may have faked their stigmata,
the overall number is too large and too well researched to maintain
that all have faked the wounds.
Some stigmatics have “visible” stigmata: the wounds of the
Passions; others have the sensation of pain that accompanies these stigmata;
in the movie, Frankie Paige, the main character, has both. Furthermore,
she has almost all wounds of the passion, not just some (e.g. bleeding
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.
The sufferings may be considered the essential part of stigmata; it
identifies the victim not merely with the body of Jesus during the Passion,
but also with the physical pain he had to endure.
It is felt that the experience is there to aid the stigmatic in its
own, or Mankind’s expiation of sin. 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.
seems historically certain that ecstatics alone bear the stigmata; moreover,
they have visions which correspond to their role of co-sufferers, beholding
from time to time the blood-stained scenes of the Passion. With many
stigmatics these apparitions were periodical. St. Catherine de' Ricci’s
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 28 hours, from
Thursday noon till Friday afternoon at 4 PM, the only interruption being
for her 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.
stigmata the result of the imagination, or do they have a supernatural
cause? No one has ever claimed that imagination could produce wounds
in a normal subject. But the problem is more difficult when we note
that most stigmatics also have visions. Though this could be likened
to a state of hypnosis, the suggestive state of hypnosis is not powerful
enough to create these effects. Is a supernatural phenomenon responsible
for the stigmata? Perhaps, but perhaps in a less than straightforward
It is another movie, The Matrix, which posits that Neo will die in the
matrix – a fictional reality – if he believes that it is
real. If he understands totally that nothing can harm him, he will be
invincible – and he will be a master of his destiny in there.
Though simple as this message may be, in fact, the Matrix appears so
real that it is easy to “believe” it is real and live by
its rules – even though the Mind knows it is not.
Can we draw a parallel to the visions of the stigmatics, which to them
are so real that they get completely absorbed in the vision they have,
so much so that their mind identifies with Jesus, and their body identifies
with the wounds? In this scenario, what is intriguing would be to see
how these visions come about – and whether they themselves have
a supernatural cause.
the movie, the stigmatic is not a devout Christian. If anything, she
is a reluctant victim. Furthermore, she is not a genuine stigmatic;
the stigmata are a side result of her possession by the soul of a priest,
whose possession has been induced in her by a magical charm. Here, we
are not in the realm of Christian stigmatics, but of pagan charms. Furthermore,
it is clear that the “possessing spirit” induces the signs
of the stigmata in Frankie Paige, so that she will be noted by the Vatican,
which the possessing soul tries to use to bring out a message the Vatican
has been trying to suppress in his life. In the end, it is a somewhat
concocted manner of going about things for the deceased priest (the
possessing spirit), for it is clear he could have accomplished this
in his own life as well.
Small wonder therefore that the Church – though for reasons of
its own – decides to perform an exorcism on the victim. In this
case, we have no spinning heads; the possessing spirit would be quite
willing to leave the victim’s body, provided that its wishes are
central message of the movie shifts from an atheist stigmatic to the
suppression of a lost gospel. This story is largely taken from Michael
Baigent and Richard Leigh’s The Dead Sea Scroll Deception, in
which a powerful commission of translators, aided by the Vatican, is
accused of stalling translation works of gospels that once translated,
may show minor or major errors in the four gospels that are part of
the Bible and that form the backbone of the Christian belief.
Patricia Arquette’s character (Frankie Paige) must write and speak
Aramaic, an ancient language spoken at the time of Christ that has largely
been forgotten. Some scholars believe that this was the actual tongue
spoken by Jesus, according to a specialist hired to instruct the actress
in speaking Aramaic. William Schniedewind, Assistant Professor of Biblical
Studies and Northwest Semitic Languages at UCLA, was hired to recreate
what Aramaic would sound like if spoken in the tongue of someone using
the language two thousand years ago.
film concludes with a reference to the Gospel of Thomas, which
is part of the Nag Hammadi library, discovered in Egypt in 1945.
The library is a collection of documents, believed to have originated
by the Gnostics, a group of Christians that had a different view
on the role of Jesus. In the 4th century, their viewpoint was
manu militari attacked, which resulted in the documents being
hidden. The library is important as it provided a new insight
into the Gnostics beliefs; before, the Gnostics were only known
through the writings of those who denounced them.
The gospel is intriguing, as it opens with “These are the
secret words, which the living Jesus spoke, and Didymus Judas
Thomas wrote down.” Straight from the first sentence, we
find that according to this gospel, Jesus provided a secret teaching
which was different – or more detailed – than his
public teachings. Christians explain this away, as according to
them, there was no inner core or secrecy regarding Jesus’s
message. This, in the end, is what the movie is really about.
It is not about stigmata, but about two group of people trying
to retrieve the message of original Christianity. In this battle,
the stigmatic is only but a toy being played by both sides –
whereby the “good guys” do not see the harm they are
doing – via the stigmata – to an ordinary person and
the “bad guys” get so upset with the possessed girl
that unlawful incarceration and even murder is considered –
and almost executed.