Episode 9: The Case of the Stigmata of St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina
St. Pio (Pius in English) Forgione was a Cappuchin friar of the Franciscan Order of Italy and he lived from 1887 to 1968. His religious life, and indeed, even his childhood was marked by many extraordinary and supernatural signs. He claims to have seen apparitions, spoken with Jesus and the saints and been attacked directly and with regularity by Satan who would violently throw him around the room at night. Others claim he bi-located (i.e. could be in two places at the same time) and was involved with many miraculous healings among other things. He became more well known (and even famous) during WWII as many GIs had the experience of going to confession with him. They claimed he could “read souls” (i.e. know your sins before you confessed them). Many claimed that if they forgot some particular sin Padre Pio, as he was called, would mention it to them with great specificity. Many other miracles were associated with him as well, both while he was alive and after his death. Many volumes of material have been written about these, in fact. However, I want to mention just one of those because it was the most extensively studied aspect of his life. That is the fact that, just as was the case with St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catherine of Sienna, Padre Pio claims to have supernaturally received the wounds of Christ in his body. These wounds appeared suddenly without explanation, according to him, and disappeared just as suddenly upon his death without leaving any scars or noticeable marks on his body. They bled each Friday and once he received them he had them for the rest of his life. Though he tried to cover them with special gloves, the wounds in his hands were about the size of a US quarter and could be looked through. These wounds have been extensively photographed. Some skeptics accused him of self-mutilation and mental illness but it seems to me that these skeptics must have been silently stumped by their disappearance upon his death. Others said that the wounds must have been psychosomatically/psychologically caused to which he playfully responded, “I could think about steak all day but it won’t make me grow horns.” Here is how they came about according to an interview with Padre Pio himself.
“On the morning of the 20th, September 1918, after having celebrated Holy Mass, the priest Padre Pio retired to the choir stalls for his usual thanksgiving. The place was S. Giovanni Rotondo and the church, Our Lady of Grace. Pio lay prostrated in loving adoration before the outspread, bloodied figure on the crucifix as was his custom in giving God thanksgiving after celebrating Mass. Pio said, “It all happened in a flash…I saw before me a mysterious Person, similar to the one I had seen on August 5th, differing only because His hands, feet and side were dripping blood. The sight of Him frightened me: what I felt at that moment is indescribable. ‘I thought I would die, and would have died if the Lord hadn’t intervened and strengthened my heart which was about to burst out of my chest. The Person disappeared and I became aware that my hands, feet and side were pierced and were dripping with blood”. Pio had just received the visible stigmata [the marks corresponding to those left on Jesus’ body as a result of his Crucifixion]…He had not desired this physical conformity and when he had recovered somewhat from the immediate experience his embarrassment was extreme: “I am dying of pain because of the wound and because of the resulting embarrassment which I feel deep within my soul. . . Will Jesus who is so good grant me this grace ? Will he at least relieve me of the embarrassment which these outward signs cause me”. Not the wound, not the pain did he wish removed but only the visible signs which at the time he considered to be an indescribable and almost unbearable humiliation…
For the next fifty years [these wounds] would confound impartial science; their continuous and profuse effusion of blood, accompanied often by the sweetest fragrance, came to be regarded as a prolonged miracle, because, as the experts correctly state, blood for its production requires nourishment while this friar’s extraordinary frugality was such as hardly to maintain the life of a small child. The remarkable nature of this miraculous gift becomes more apparent when it is considered how such loss of blood was simply inconsonant with and disproportionate to the stamina and energy with which Pio with ever greater activity and zeal conducted his life in all matters relating to the service of God.” (EWTN)
Padre Pio bore these wounds for over 50 years and their bleeding was always accompanied by a sweet floral frangrance unexplainably. While his spiritual life was being examined by the Vatican and by his local confessors, the Church also ordered that his wounds be submitted to medical examination. Dr. Luigi Romanelli, chief physician of Barletta did just that for over one year and he was joined by Dr. Giorgio Festa who studied Pio for an additional five years running all number of medical tests. Finally Pope Benedict’s personal physician Dr. Giuseppe Bastianelli and Pathologist Dr. Amico Bignami of the University of Rome did as well. None could find an answer. They did comment that his wounds had unusually smooth edges and showed no signs of edema. It was these “before” photos and examinations that were used alongside the miraculous disappearance of those same wounds at the time of his death that seem to indicate miraculous origins.