St Padre Pio was an Italian Franciscan who said he got the visible stigmata in 1918 after having pains in his hands and feet and side on and off since 1915. Jesus was supposedly nailed hands and feet to a cross and got stabbed in the side. A stigmatic is a person who carries similar wounds as the result of a miracle.

Context: Roman Catholic stigmatist and miracle-worker and saint-to-be Pio needs a hernia operation. We will look at how Dr Festa gives unintended clues that Pio was not the saint he was made out to be but a deceiver. Festa noticed that the real truth about Pio's stigmata was that there was nothing magical or unnatural about it.


All parties agreed that the operation should take place in the friary. When Dr. Festa had arrived in San Giovanni Rotondo a week earlier, he saw a Brother whitewashing the walls of a room, and joked with him that it would make a good operating room....

A friend brought Dr. Festa's surgical instruments from Rome, and Dr. Angelo Merla arrived to assist him. Padre Fortunato, who had been in the medical corps during the war, also helped. A layman, Emanuele Brunatto, was stationed at the door as sentry.

Everything was ready for the operation – everything except the patient. He was busy hearing many confessions that morning. He also chanted a Requiem Mass for the deceased benefactors of the Capuchin Order, and gave Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Finally, at noon, he retired to the friary.

“We saw him approaching, walking very slowly,” Dr. Festa reports. “He was pallid from the sustained fatigue of the morning and from the physical pain which the hernia and his stigmata caused him.”

When Padre Pio entered the makeshift operating room, he emphatically refused any anaesthetic. “If you chloroform me,” he challenged Dr. Festa, “how could I keep you from inspecting the wound in my side? You see, I have reason not to take an anaesthetic. Don’t worry. When you’re finished, you will find me in the same place where you put me in the beginning.”

For at least a modicum of relief, Dr. Festa offered Padre Pio a drink of Benedictine. Padre Pio drank it right out of the bottle.

“Drink a little more,” the doctor urged. “No, that’s sufficient,” Padre Pio answered, “Otherwise we risk an internal scuffle between the Benedictine and the Capuchin.”

The operation lasted almost two hours. Padre Pio never complained.

“Only once,” Dr. Festa reported, “I saw two tears roll down his cheeks as he lay there and groaned: ‘Jesus, pardon me if I don’t know how to suffer as I should.’” During the operation, everyone in the room heard an insect buzzing and scurried around to find it. “It’s not a fly,” Padre Pio said. “It’s a mosquito, there, up there, in the corner of the window,” and he pointed at it.

While the doctor was putting in the stitches after the operation, a local veterinarian, Dr. Alessandro Giuva, tried to enter the room, but the stout guard Brunatto stopped him. Tempers rose and shouts were exchanged. Padre Pio heard the commotion and called out: “If you want to take my place, Alessandro, you can come in. The table is still warm.”

Giuva blushed. He too, had a hernia, but out of shame he had never mentioned it to anyone.

After the operation, Padre Pio was walked back to his room. There he collapsed, unconscious. Now Dr. Festa had his chance. “I confess that during this period,” the doctor admitted, “I took advantage of his condition and explored the wound over his heart, which I had reported on five years earlier. I was able to observe the same characteristics that I had noted then. For the love of truth and exactness, I must add only that the soft skin of the scab, which covered the wound on the left side two inches from under the nipple in the preceding examination, has not fallen off. This wound now appears fresh and of a vermillion color, in the form of a cross, and with short but conspicuous rays which spread out from the edges of the wound.”

SOURCE Rev. John A. Schug OFM Cap., PADRE PIO.


Note: Festa alleged that he did not think that Pio was faking the stigmata.

Festa said that Pio was weak and slow that day from the pain of the hernia and the stigmata and the religious duties he performed. It was okay to say the hernia and the over-exertion were causes. Festa had no right to assume the stigmata had made an input for he was not sure what their current state was. There was no examination taken of them that week. He was being unprofessional and biased. He had stated in the past that the wounds were surface wounds.

Pio refusing to take a general anaesthetic in case Festa would take a look at the stigmata mark on his side is bizarre. Pio had rights as a patient and just needed to get the doctor to sign an agreement that he would not do it. Also, if Festa needed to bare him up to the mark to do the operation then he had to do it whether Pio would be conscious or not. Pio is telling us that he does not trust Festa. That is very profound mistrust. A doctor has the right and duty to examine any problems on your body before he operates in case he does further damage. How could you do a hernia operation if you suspected or thought the patient had a wound like a spear thrust through his body?

Pio's fear of the wound been seen again is bizarre when Festa had already seen it five years before. What difference did it make? A man who would refuse anaesthetic over a trivial fear is not mentally well. No wonder Rome said he was a nut. He fits the bill for somebody who might enjoy the challenge of inflicting crucifixion marks on himself.

Pio's endurance during the surgery is impressive but non-saints have displayed such endurance too. They did not neck a bottle of alcohol beforehand like Pio did for Dutch courage and they did not all collapse afterwards and go out cold like he did. Pio went unconscious in his room - the pressure of enduring surgery without anaesthetic had finally had its effect. It proves that his endurance was not a miracle but down to determination.

Bignami and the Alleged Wounds

Professor Bignami found superficial wounds on Pio's breast and hands and feet. He agreed with Festa that there were no deep fissures (page 100, The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism). Pio’s stigmata is unsatisfactory. There is nothing remarkable about it (page 100, The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism).

Bignami came up with an interesting diagnosis. The hand wounds were not deep but in the epidermis. They were caused by a condition called multiple neurotic necrosis (page 38, Padre Pio: Miracles and Politics in a Secular Age). Suggestion and iodine were put forward as the means by which the wounds were symmetrical and well-placed and prevented from healing (page 39, ibid). He did not find any necrosis on the foot marks or in the side but merely what appeared to be pigmented skin. He thought these marks brown in colour were made by some irritating substance such as tincture of iodine (page 39, Padre Pio: Miracles and Politics in a Secular Age).

Bignami found it necessary to get a Father Paolino to go to Pio's cell and take away the tincture of iodine (page 41, Padre Pio: Miracles and Politics in a Secular Age ). Priests bound Pio's wounds to stop him making him and the wounds stayed the same and didn't heal. The following Thursday they went bright red and he started to bleed (page 41, ibid).

He did not regard the stigmata as supernatural or even inexplicable. But he did not provide any hard evidence or medical evidence that Pio was innocent of making the marks to defraud. He rejected fraud because of the "impression of sincerity that Padre Pio has made on me." This is in no way scientific.

But he did say that the wounds were both pathological and caused by some innocent action of Pio: "We can in fact think that the lesions as described first began as a pathological condition (multiple ‘necrosi neurotiche’ of the skin), and then perhaps by a process of unconscious suggestion, they came to completion in a symmetrical form, and are now maintained artificially by a chemical means, for example with tincture of iodine." He added in his report, "This seems to be the most reliable interpretation of the facts that I have observed. In any case one can affirm that there is nothing in the alterations of the skin as described that cannot be the product of a morbid state and of the action of well-known chemical agents."

Against that it is said that Pio was bandaged and sealed for days to see if the wounds would heal and they did not. During that time, Pio was supposedly unable to put anything on them. They were checked every morning in case there was any tampering. Pio to stop the healing had simply to put on a good dose of chemicals before the bandages went on and could have been topping up when the bandages were being changed. Hitting his body hard where the wounds were against a table corner would have stopped healing. A person's wounds being slow to heal is common enough.


Pio cried once during the surgery according to Festa who had also heard him pray that he could not suffer as he should. Pio then was admitting it was nightmarishly hard. Why should surgery be any worse than having magical crucifixion wounds through your hands and feet and side? At least the surgery would have a purpose and that would make it more bearable. And it would not be long-term torment.

Festa claimed that he took advantage when Pio was unconscious and looked at the wound and said it was the same as five years earlier. Festa was always clear that there was no side wound. This book says he did say there was a wound. Even if he did, it says nothing about it being deep. And would Festa really admit to sneaking a look? I'd like to see if the book is really faithfully reporting what Festa said. How reliable was Festa if he was that sneaky? Nevertheless, the tale of a superficial side wound rings true. Pio had no reason to ban him from looking unless Pio wanted people to think it was deep when it was only on the surface of his body.

Bignami was not giving a medical opinion that the wounds were truly of some paranormal or supernatural origin.  He said it was a personal opinion.  It is worth as much as what John up the hill thinks.  Medics might not accuse of fraud but by saying they only trust the person on the basis of a feeling they as good as suggest fraud should be considered.  It is polite unbelief.

The experts were clear that Pio's marks were not supernatural. They could be explained by natural medical science.

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