I'll Have a Capuchino and a Steaming Pile of Stigmata

When the Vatican exhumed the body of Saint Padre Pio recently for public viewing on the 40th anniversary of his death, it sparked chatter around the Interwebs in both the religious and skeptical communities. Some in the religious community were pleased to have the body of a saint displayed in time for Easter, and some in the skeptical community grabbed their collective crotch and said, “I got your Pio, right here.”

At any rate, you all remember Padre Pio. He was the Italian monk from the Capuchin order who, it was said, demonstrated a whole host of miraculous abilities. These wonderful abilities garnered the monk quite a following of the spiritually hungry in his day, and many of the faithful swore to the legitimacy of his magical talents.

For example, the word among his followers was that Pio had wrestled with and overcome the devil in his cell at the monastery. Unfortunately, no video of the event has ever surfaced on YouTube, and none of the sanctioned wrestling organizations that I checked with have any record of the bout. Still, can you imagine if today’s sports promoters were around for that battle?


Don’t miss the monastery cell match of the millinnium, between the Penitent Monk, Padre Pio, and the Dark Lord himself, the Devil!!!

One revered friar and one evil demon monster enter, but who will walk out?!?!

With special guest ring announcer, Tom Cruise look-alike, Larry “Skitch” Morgan.

Live On Pay Per View!!!


Many people also said that the bearded monk had the power of “bilocation”, that he was often seen in two places at once. Of course these days we all know the secret behind bilocation. I seem to recall they made a movie about this particular Pio power, starring Hayley Mills. I think it was called The Pontiff Trap.

Seriously though, what a cool super power to have. Unfortunately, no one has ever been able to verify such an ability tied to anyone other than the Flash. And it only seems like he’s in two places at once because he’s so fast. All we have for Pio is the anecdotal ramblings of the Pio Posse.

Another reported Pio power, was his ability to know the penitents’ sins before they had confessed them. Wow, how convenient would that be these days? You wouldn’t even have to go near the confessional. Immediately after a round of self-gratification for example, you’d simply receive a text message: OK, 5 hail mrys & 2 our fthrs. CU 2mro @ BINGO ;-).

Some folks also said Padre Pio emitted the scent of flowers.

Now, this one kind of disappoints me, as far as saintly super powers go. I mean, unless a cow shits on the altar during mass, when would it ever be useful. Plus, anyone can duplicate it. It’s not difficult to emit the scent of flowers. Maybe Pio had a part-time gig at a florist. Or maybe the Avon lady was simply paying regular visits to the monastery. I hope he was able to use the flower scent power when they pulled him out of his coffin, but somehow I doubt he was.

I don’t know. I just don’t get that one.

But there were also those among the flock who claimed that the revered Padre could predict future events. Now we’re getting somewhere. Of course, it seems less impressive when we learn that he could only predict things that he himself put into the church bulletin.

“Heed ye all my vision: There will be midnight mass, at which time you will all be bored silly, wishing you could go out for cocktails instead. And then, just when things look their darkest, sunrise service, followed by Easter breakfast.”

If Pio could indeed predict future events, one has to wonder if he ever predicted the post-mortem humiliation of being dug up and having his rotting corpse put on display 40 years after his death. I’m guessing that if he did make that prediction, he kept it to himself, so as not to give any dumb ass old men in robes any ideas.

Not to be outdone, however, it seems they came up with it on their own anyway.

In addition to all those powers, Pio (Italian for pious) was said to have regularly exhibited stigmata — the wounds on the hands, feet, and side that supposedly matched those endured by Jesus during his crucifixion. The stigmata wounds were kind of Pio’s trademark, his showcase power. He gained wide notoriety thanks to a little smears of blood here and there.

Unfortunately, the Catholic church was alarmed at the nature of the “miracle”, as well as the cult-like following that sprang up around the good Padre because of it, and they banned him from celebrating mass in public.

The good news is, he once made a pilgrimage to Foggia for confession, and a man who made the trip with him was a young Pole who later became Pope John Paul II. That encounter had huge repercussions for the monk’s influence, as John Paul II would eventually make him a saint, thereby removing the stigma of the stigmata.

All he had to do was die, and await canonization. Simple.

The funny thing is all the explanations for the stigmata wounds I’ve been reading about; not just for Padre Pio, but for the various other people around the world who claim the wounds are divine. Some folks seem to think those exhibiting the wounds have confederates working with them, and others seem to think the “afflicted” use some type of acid to achieve the effect.

Well, dear readers, you are smarter than that. Let’s use the Comments section to create a miracle kit. What would one need to pull off the powers supposedly exhibited by the late Saint Padre Pio, as well as any other miracles assigned to the saints?

Be creative. Be silly. Be brilliant.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. it seems to me that the best stigmata inducer would logically be a pointy ring fingernail. and if you wanted to go all the way and do the whole shebang (hands, feet, and side), you could pound tacks up through the bottoms of your shoes and keep a sharpened hand tool (a standard screwdriver, chisel, or boning knife) sharp end up in your right jeans pocket (but with your t-shirt covering it) at the ready to conveniently lean into. voila! perfectly good stigmata!

  2. I was gonna say a ring with a pointy bit, but you're right that a fingernail could quite easily do the trick as well. It would take effort, of course, to actually break the skin, but it could be done. Particularly as one is getting up in age and one's skin begins to become more fragile.

    The smell could be any of a million and a half things. Completely ridiculous to count that as a "miracle".

    Both of Pio's predictive powers are also quite easily explained by the same techniques non-Catholic psychic scammers profess to use. Only with the double bonus that Pio was a Man of God and thus of Unimpeachable Integrity. If you were religious, and your priest gave you a cold reading, would you tell him he was full of shit? What if he had a reputation for accurate predictions? Not to mention that if he's in any one place for more than a couple of weeks, patterns are going to be obvious. "Here comes Bob to confession, I bet he was jerkin' it while thinking of Tom's wife again."

  3. I gave myself stigmata a couple of weeks ago on accident. . . .

    I can honestly say that in my entire life, this is the first time I've ever heard anyone say these particular words in this particular order.

    Do you mind if I start all my stories with this line from now on?

  4. This should get the list started:

    1. A rosary with a hidden compartment in the back for the rose-scented perfume my grandma used to wear.

    2. One of those little ice pick thingies — gotta keep those stigmata open and bleeding!

    3. An under-the-counter supply of blood thinners and anti-coagulants.

    Note to self: Never do anything woo-freaky enough that the Catholic Church would celebrate my deathiversary by digging up my moldering corpse for the pièce de résistance of the Celebrating Bee party decorations.

  5. *giggle* *cough* *hack*

    Damn it, Sam! I've still got a cough, enough already with the funnies.

    durnett, good point about the wrist/hand thing. It's weird, I just finished reading Jodi Picoult's book "Keeping Faith", about a child who turns up with stigmata — entertaining fiction, but it looked like she'd done her research about the history of stigmata. I know it's not a good idea to use fiction as a resource for factual discussions, but that said, she listed several instances (including Padre Pio, which was why this caught my eye) of stigmata over the centuries. In most cases, the stigmata were found to include obvious trauma to the hand, and many of them were proven to be the result of self-mutilation when the puncture instrument was found on their person or in their cell.

    Now I'm kind of curious to go back through the book and see what she said about Padre Pio and start cross-referencing to non-fictional sources — it would be interesting to know if there were some verified accounts of a non-believing doctor's examination of his wounds.

  6. I gave myself stigmata a couple of weeks ago on accident. I was digging up a tree to transplant in a happier place. A large blister formed and popped in the center of my palm. For the next several days, I had a raw, unsightly mess in my palm (yes, I am ignoring your masturbation jokes).

    Most of the stigmata that I’ve seen photographed or videoed don’t go all the way through the hand or foot. They are usually just a bloody hole in the palm or on the top of the foot, like the nail got stuck half way.

    One of the interesting things that I saw on a history channel documentary about Spartacus a few years ago was that the Roman cruxifiction manual specified that the nails go through the wrists. Strange that the stigmata are always on the hands and not the wrists…

  7. Church-sanctioned corpse abuse.

    Almost weird enough to make the pederasty look normal by comparison.

  8. "I gave myself stigmata a couple of weeks ago on accident. I was digging up a tree to transplant in a happier place. "

    In other words, you suffered so that the tree might be saved. That makes you…

    (Sorry. I just had to.)

  9. "One of the interesting things that I saw on a history channel documentary about Spartacus a few years ago was that the Roman cruxifiction manual specified that the nails go through the wrists. Strange that the stigmata are always on the hands and not the wrists…"

    It's far more dangerous to ram something into, cough cough. Sorry, I mean for god to magically manifest wounds in the wrists than it is for the hands. There's a nice lump of bone that makes a great nailing point, but takes longer to heal up and might cause massive loss in wrist functionality. A celibate man wouldn't want to risk that now would he?

  10. One of the interesting things that I saw on a history channel documentary about Spartacus a few years ago was that the Roman cruxifiction manual specified that the nails go through the wrists. Strange that the stigmata are always on the hands and not the wrists…

    There have been reported cases of stigmata wounds on the wrists. I can't take the time to locate a source right now, but I'll see if I can find one later today.

    The interesting thing is, the location of the hand or wrist wounds have been shown to coincide with the popular art depicting the crucifixion in or around the area where the "sufferer" lives. I recall reading about a couple of cases that featured wrist wounds shortly after the Shroud of Turin became popular.

  11. OK, 5 hail mrys & 2 our fthrs. CU 2mro @ BINGO ;-).


    Seriously, those are the "miracles" that warrant canonization these days? What's next, Saint Michael Jordan, who could surely ignore gravity?

    How do you say "secret twin brother" in Italian? Had John Paul II never seen a soap opera?

    Pre-confession sins:
    Eddie Izzard does a great bit about "original sin" that applies here. How often would a priest really hear anything way out of the ordinary in confession? Old married men will confess to lusting in their hearts or cheating on their wives. Teenage boys will confess to spanking it. How hard would it be to predict what a similar sinner would want to get off his chest?

    Predicting future events:
    Even a terrible cold reader like Sylvia Browne has people convinced that she can see the future.

    Smelling like flowers:
    My wife uses a detergent that makes me smell like flowers, and nobody's suggested that I've got divinely inspired superpowers. Alternatively, he could have put crushed flower petals in his robes.

    This is supposed to be the big one, but it's also no great shakes. he could have used a caustic chemical or abrasive to cause his skin to bleed. Or, he could have had a container of blood in his pocket, and smeared it on as necessary.

    I think we need to convince Catholics to raise the bar for sainthood. Let's get them somebody with a decent FX budget to pray to.

  12. LBB,

    It's easier and probably more convenient to produce stigmata wounds with a fingernail, a tooth, the point of a paper clip, or something else very common. Remember, most times these wounds are superficial surface abrasions, and those that are puncture wounds are never very deep. Just get a little blood flowing and you might have sainthood in your future.

    By the way, here's one fellow who exhibited the wounds on his wrists.

  13. It’s easier and probably more convenient to produce stigmata wounds with a fingernail

    Yeah, I was trying to come up with a method that hadn't already been spoken for in the comments. I'm tired of being marginalized by "Big Stigmata."

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