STIGMATA by Ted Harrison. (St. Martin’s Press: $16.95; 164 pp.) Not everyone is interested in stigmata, and that’s OK. Hard to believe, but OK. Here is a gentle introduction to the history and the controversy of that inexplicable phenomenon in which ordinary people (often stunningly ordinary) develop spontaneous lesions that resemble the marks of Christ’s crucifxion. The very first stigmatist was St. Francis of Assisi, who, in 1224, vacationing (in retreat) on Mount Alverina in Italy, “received replicas of the wounds of Christ on his hands, feet, and right side.” That was a long time ago. But in March, 1972, Cloretta Robinson, a ten year old girl in West Oakland bled first from her left palm, then her right, then her feet and her forehead. In 1991 an assistant priest at a Roman Catholic church outside Washington D.C. found bleeding wounds on his wrists and feet and wounds opened up on his right side.
Since St. Francis, around 300 cases have been recorded by the Catholic Church, most of them in predominantly Roman Catholic countries. Women outnumber men “by a ratio of 7 to 1.” The medical establishment is called upon to confirm the common incidence of dermatolological psychosomatic symptoms--when someone is hurt, for example tied with rope, and years later begins to bleed in those places where the rope cut. Multiple personality provides another possible explanation for stigmata. On occasion, potential stigmatists turn out to be flat out insane or hysterical, and these phoneys are neatly culled for the fastidious reader, while stories of the real McCoys, so acknowledged by the Catholic Church, are described by religious writer Ted Harrison. While there have been relatively few recorded cases of stigmata in the United States, writes Harrison, “conditions are right for new stigmatics to emerge.” Conditions include economic depressions and “hard times.” This is not the book to read for thrilling credentials and scientific proof. As is so often the case, the stories people tell are by far the most intersting part.