The Social Stigma of Stigmata

by Catherine Miller

         During our first dramaturgical meeting for Crooked Matt, Emily, Laura, Michael, and I decided that we would research a religion we were unfamiliar with. I was born into a Catholic family and attended School of the Madeleine for elementary school and Academy of Our Lady of Peace for freshman year of high school. Within the past two years, I have made the decision to convert to Judaism and am currently looking at different synagogues in the Chicago area. So I should not be researching Catholicism or Judaism unless something important presents itself. And something did.

             Originally, we were asked as a group to choose a specific area of research for our actor packets. I came to the conclusion that the main area of my research for Crooked would be focusing on disfigurement (emotional and physical), specifically zoning in on two particular subjects. Laney’s neurological disorder is Dystonia. But Maribel has stigmata. Or believes she does:

                   Maribel: “I read about stigmata on the internet in the library,

                   and I think I have the invisible kind, where you feel the pain in

                   your hands but there’s no blood.

                   Laney: What pain?

                   Maribel: The pain of Jesus. The pain of the whole world.”

                   (Trieschmann 20)

                While Laney is a Free Holiness Christian, stigmata is traditionally associated with Roman Catholicism. And it is one of the few things I never delved into during my nine (+) years of Catholic schooling. Here and there, we would hear about the marks on Jesus Christ caused by his crucifixion and how they remained there even after his resurrection. Occasionally, on allotted days throughout the school year, we would be lectured to about a specific Saint’s life and why he was ultimately canonized (the process of becoming a saint). Sometimes that would include the mentioning of a saint having stigmata. It was never explained.

             My biggest source of anxiety is reading scientific articles on stigmata. While there are some relevant ideas about its medical causes, these are not really of interest to me. Mainly because Maribel truly believes she has stigmata. There is no question in her mind even though some in the Roman Catholic Church believe it to be a completely false idea.

             It reminds me of when I found out Santa Claus was not real. Until that point in my life, December 25th would roll around each year and I would go to sleep believing a fat man in a red suit slid down my chimney to bring me that Barbie dream house I asked for. When I realized he did not exist, my mother frankly told me that he was a saint who lived a very long time ago who gave gifts to those who needed them: A historical fact to carry on a tradition over centuries. There needed to be something weighty there to explain the mystifying creature that was Kris Kringle.

               Now, due to these medical causes being unearthed, stigmata are taken less seriously. With stigmata, some would rather believe in medicine than a myth. I have found a few books and articles on stigmata explaining the more mystical side of things, which gives me hope. Stigmata is not a currently trending topic, so the majority of the books I have obtained are over twenty years old. The other thing rattling my brain at the moment is how in the world a sixteen-year-old, Free Holiness Christian would grapple with the idea of stigmata on her body. And, for that matter, how she learned about the idea of stigmata in the first place. Maribel’s father is the head of the church and keeps a watchful eye on her. Nothing is really explained to her by her parents, so how could a teenager fall upon such an idea? Maybe the more I unearth the subject, things will become clearer. This might be a directorial concept or even something for the actor to decide for themselves but the origin of these ideas is something I’d like to bring up for the next meeting.

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