Signs of Salvation: The Evolution of Stigmatic Spirituality Before Francis of Assisi

C.A Muessig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


This is a 15,000-word article on the concept of stigmata before Francis of Assisi. Francis of Assisi’s reported reception of the stigmata on Mount La Verna in 1224 is widely held to be the first documented account of an individual miraculously and physically receiving the wounds of Christ. The appearance of this miracle, however, in the first quarter of the thirteenth century, is not as unexpected as it first seems. Interpretations of Galatians 6, 17 – I bear the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ in my body – had been circulating in biblical commentaries since the early Middle Ages. These works posited that clerics bore metaphorical and sometimes physical wounds (stigmata) as marks of persecution, while spreading the teaching of Christ in the face of resistance. By the seventh century, the meaning of Galatians 6,17 had been appropriated by bishops and priests as a sign or mark of Christ that they received invisibly at their ordination, and sometimes upon their death. In the eleventh century, Peter Damian articulated a stigmatic spirituality that saw the ideal priest, monk and nun as bearers of Christ’s wounds, a status achieved through the swearing of vows and the practice of severe penance. By the early twelfth century, crusaders were said to bear the marks of the Passion in death and even sometimes as they entered into battle. By the early thirteenth century, “bearing the stigmata” was a pious superlative appropriated by a few devout members of the laity who interpreted Galatian 6:17 in a most literal manner. Thus, this article considers how the conception of “bearing the stigmata” developed in medieval Europe from its treatment in early Latin patristic commentaries to its visceral portrayal by the laity in the thirteenth century. The article has been accepted for publication and is being copy-edited.
Translated title of the contributionSigns of Salvation: The Evolution of Stigmatic Spirituality in the Middle Ages
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-68
Number of pages29
JournalChurch History
Issue number1
Early online date21 Feb 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2013


  • Stigmata, stigmatics, Peter Damian, Mary of Oignies, Cistercians


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