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What are the marks on Jesus’s hands called?

The marks on Jesus’s hands are commonly referred to as the stigmata. The stigmata refer to the wounds on Jesus’s hands, feet, and side that correspond to the crucifixion wounds he suffered during his crucifixion. The word “stigmata” comes from a Greek word meaning “puncture wound” or “tattoo mark.” In Christian tradition, the stigmata symbolize the suffering of Christ and his solidarity with humankind. They serve as a reminder of Christ’s painful sacrifice on the cross and his compassion for those who suffer.

The Crucifixion Wounds

According to the Gospels, Jesus was nailed to a cross as a means of capital punishment by the Roman authorities. His hands and feet were pierced by large nails, while his side was pierced by a spear. This caused severe pain and eventual death by asphyxiation. The locations of these wounds on Jesus’s body correspond to the stigmata that later manifested in certain saints and mystics throughout history who experienced visions of Christ’s Passion.

The wounds that Jesus suffered during his crucifixion included:

  • Holes in his hands from nails hammered through his wrists or palms
  • Holes in his feet from nails hammered through his ankles or tops of his feet
  • A gash in his side from a Roman spear called the Holy Lance

These crucifixion wounds left permanent marks on Jesus’s body, even after his resurrection. The Gospel accounts report that the resurrected Jesus retained the scars of his crucifixion. In John 20:27, the disciple Thomas places his finger in the mark of the nails on Jesus’s hands. This confirms that the risen Christ bore the stigmata.

Meaning of the Stigmata

For Christians, the stigmata symbolize several key theological ideas:

  • Suffering: The stigmata represent the suffering and pain that Jesus willingly endured on the cross on behalf of humanity. His wounds reveal the agony of crucifixion.
  • Sacrifice: By being crucified, Jesus sacrificed his life to atone for human sin according to Christian doctrine. The stigmata are a sign of this sacrificial death.
  • Solidarity: By retaining the stigmata after his resurrection, Jesus remains connected to those who suffer physical pain. The wounds symbolize fellowship in suffering.
  • Victory: While the stigmata represent pain and death, they also remind believers that Jesus overcame death through his resurrection. The stigmata show Christ’s ultimate triumph.

Therefore, the stigmata are a multilayered symbol in Christianity. They reveal both the depths of Christ’s suffering and his compassionate identification with humankind in the midst of pain and sorrow.

Historical Cases of the Stigmata

Throughout Christian history, certain saints and mystics have experienced visions of the crucified Christ where they spontaneously manifest his wounds. Known as “stigmatics,” these individuals develop the stigmata on their hands, feet, sides, and sometimes heads that mirror Christ’s crucifixion wounds. Here are a few famous cases:

Saint Francis of Assisi

The first known stigmatic was St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). In 1224, two years before his death, St. Francis embarked on a 40-day fast and spiritual retreat on Mt. La Verna in Italy. There, he had a vision of a six-winged seraphim angel affixed to a cross. According to accounts, St. Francis perceived that the angel was Jesus. As he gazed upon the vision, he saw the crucifixion wounds appear on his own hands, feet, and side. These wounds became permanent and were documented by eyewitnesses, representing the first known case of the stigmata.

Saint Catherine of Siena

St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) experienced invisible stigmata during a visionary experience in 1375. She did not manifest outward wounds, but claimed to feel excruciating pain in her hands, feet, and side resembling that of Christ’s passion. This invisible stigmata recurred several times until her death, causing St. Catherine to remain bedridden for long periods.

Saint Pio of Pietrelcina

One of the most famous stigmatics was St. Pio of Pietrelcina (1887-1968), better known as Padre Pio. He first experienced the stigmata in 1910 as a young priest while praying before a crucifix. Padre Pio’s stigmata wounds would bleed frequently, often accompanied by a strong smell of roses. Doctors who examined the wounds confirmed that they could find no natural cause. Padre Pio bore the visible stigmata for 50 years until his death.

Therese Neumann

Therese Neumann (1898-1962) was a German Catholic mystic who manifested stigmata beginning in 1926 after visions of Jesus’ crucifixion. Her wounds would appear on Fridays and bleed profusely. Therese also reported that she no longer needed to eat except for daily Holy Communion, supposedly subsisting on spiritual nourishment instead. Her case attracted attention from physicians and scientists.

These cases demonstrate that the stigmata continued to manifest in various forms long after biblical times, as an expression of identification with Christ’s suffering.

Possible Explanations

Throughout history, there have been many debates over the authenticity and origin of the stigmata. Here are some of the possible explanations that have been proposed:

Supernatural Causes

  • A miraculous phenomenon of divine origin
  • A charism or spiritual gift granted to certain saints
  • A manifestation of the victim soul phenomena in Catholic mysticism
  • Demonic deception or occult forces

Natural Causes

  • Self-inflicted wounds from unconscious autosuggestion or hysteria
  • Psychosomatic manifestation from extreme religious devotion
  • Rare skin disorders or conditions
  • Deliberate bodily mortification and fraud

Ultimately, the true origin of stigmata remains shrouded in mystery and would need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The possibility of both supernatural and natural explanations continue to be proposed by scholars today.

Significance for Christianity

The stigmata hold deep theological significance for many Christians. While the authenticity of individual cases is debated, most Christians agree that the stigmata symbolize several key truths:

  • The tremendous suffering Jesus was willing to undergo for humanity
  • The centrality of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross
  • Jesus is compassionately present with those who suffer
  • Pain and wounds can be transformed into something meaningful
  • Suffering need not be in vain

By meditating on Christ’s wounds, such as by praying the Stations of the Cross, many Christians feel united to Jesus in a deeply intimate way. The stigmata remind believers that God understands human pain and walks closely with the suffering.

Modern Stigmatics

While no longer common, there have been some reports of stigmatics in recent history. Some examples include:

  • Marie Rose Ferron (1902-1936): A Canadian-American mystic who allegedly manifested the passion wounds.
  • Irving “Francis” Houle (1925-2009): A Michigan stigmatic who experienced the wounds for 44 years.
  • Myrna Nazzour (b. 1960): A contemporary Lebanese mystic who claims invisible stigmata that produces a liquid.
  • Maureen Sweeney-Kyle (b. 1962): An American homemaker who allegedly experienced stigmata beginning in 1993 after intense prayer.

However, these newer cases have generally attracted less attention and skepticism than earlier medieval stigmatics. Modern medicine and psychology provide more natural explanations for such phenomena today.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the stigmata refer to bodily marks, wounds, or pains corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ. The stigmata hold deep theological meaning in Christian tradition, symbolizing Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross to redeem humanity. While various explanations have been proposed over the centuries, the stigmata remind believers of Jesus’ suffering, compassion, and ultimate triumph over sin and death. The marks on Jesus’s hands remain a powerful, if mysterious, testament to the lengths a loving God would go to save his creation.