MORE SECRETS OF THE STIGMATA

 

Therese Neumann one of the 20th century’s two stigmatics
(Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive),
Bild 102-00241 Ferdinand Neumann.

In the Sound of Music the nuns sang ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria?’ It’s more likely the more pressing problem in the Alps around that time was: ‘How do you solve a problem like Therese?’

  Therese Neumann is a problem for skeptics, because she has never been satisfactorily debunked; yet here is a modern-day stigmatic who insisted she ate or drank nothing but the Eucharist for forty years.

 Was it a miracle or Mass hysteria?

Fotograf Walter J. Pilsak, Waldsassen

This extraordinary woman was born the in village of Konnersreuth, Bavaria in 1898 to a poor farming family, the eldest of ten children. From her youth, her nickname was “Resl.’

A sturdy girl, she claimed that she could do the work of any man – and had the same appetite. Her ambition was to become a missionary in Africa.

But her life changed in 1918 when she was partially paralyzed after falling off a stool helping to put out a fire in her uncle’s barn. She continued to try to work though, and this resulted in other falls, one causing a head injury that resulted in blindness. She became bedridden.

But four years later, on the day a saint called Therese of Lisieux was beatified in Rome, her eyesight was restored. Two years later, when this same saint was canonized, she was cured of her paralysis as well.

Therese of Lisieux

Later that same year she was diagnosed with appendicitis. She convulsed while being prepared for surgery and afterwards asked to be taken to the church instead of the operating room. She prayed to Saint Therese for her intervention for a third time and afterwards said she was cured.

 This alone is cause for head scratching. But Therese Neumann’s life was to become even stranger.

 On Good Friday in 1926 she claimed to have had visions of the entire Passion of Christ. She then started bleeding from her side, her hands, her feet – even her eyes. A priest was summoned to administer the Last Rites. But Theresa Neumann did not die. In fact, these same symptoms reappeared for the rest of her life, every Easter.

 During these trances this illiterate peasant spoke Aramaic. She later developed nine more wounds, corresponding to the wounds from the scourging and the Crown of Thorns. Because of the bleeding she wore a head-cloth almost constantly, and this can be be seen in the many photographs of her.

 Not one of the wounds ever healed, and it is said they were still imprinted on her body at the time of her death.

 For the next forty years she ate or drank nothing except the Eucharist.

 No one believed her. In 1927, the Bishop of Regensburg, Antonius von Henle, asked for a medical certification of the phenomenon. Therese was observed around the clock under medical instruction for two weeks by a medical doctor and four Franciscan nurses. The attending physician, Dr. Seidl, testified under oath in a Munich court on April 15, 1929, that there could be no question of Therese having taken any nourishment during the period of observation.

 He said she had consumed nothing except for one consecrated sacred host per day and astonishingly, suffered no loss of weight, or dehydration.

photograph Allan Warren (1973)

But this was not Jennifer Jones in Song of Bernadette. In fact, the silent movie actress Lilian Gish painted a horrifying picture when visited her in 1928, in preparation for a movie role about her life.

She was confronted with a short, pale, freckled woman with bad teeth sitting up in bed with a bloodstained nightdress, dried blood congealed under her eyelids, bandages wrapped around her head and hands, describing Christ’s passion to the Archbishop of Portugal.

 She said that if she hadn’t been warned by a priest what to expect, she would have fainted.

 The Nazi party, of course, did not like Therese Neumann. They wanted to send her to a mental home to be ‘cured.’ Her father wouldn’t allow it. Her family home and her parish church were targeted for attacks but she survived the war unscathed, despite her vocal opposition to Hitler.

photograph: Walter J Pilsak, Waldsassen

She eventually died on 18 September 1962, from cardiac arrest. The Resi was largely ignored during her life by the church; the Vatican is about ritual not mysticism. But a petition asking for her beatification signed by 40,000 people eventually forced the Bishop of Regensburg to open proceedings for her beatification in 2005. Don’t expect news anytime soon.

It’s a fascinating subject; I’ve touched on it before regarding the life of the Italian saint, Padre Pio (See my post here.) It also inspired my latest novel, due out in London next month.

What do we make of all this? Was Therese Neumann a fraud – if she was, no one has yet come forward with an adequate explanation of how she produced so many wounds throughout her entire life; she was never caught in forty years eating or drinking. Was she the most ingenious and stoic hoaxer who ever lived?

 If not, then how did the stigmata come about – and how did she survive her inedia for so long? Was it supernatural intervention – or did this illiterate peasant woman manifest such remarkable events through the power of her own mind?

 It’s a mystery that’s never been rationally explained.

 So – what do you think?

I hope you enjoyed my post. And because I want to see you all back here regularly, I am offering a free copy of Looking for Mr. Goodstory to anyone who joins my blog today! It’s a collection of my favorite blog posts over the last six months – all you have to do is join up, then write to me at colin underscore falconer underscore author at hotmail dot com. I’ll send you a copy as a mobi Epub or PDF file!

About colinfalconer

author of bestselling historical novels like Anastasia, When We Were Gods, Aztec and Harem. My books have been published in the UK, US and ANZ and translated into seventeen languages.
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21 Responses to MORE SECRETS OF THE STIGMATA

  1. ritaroberts says:

    That is the most weird story I have ever heard, I can’t possible think of any explanation. Other than she was a fraud or a saint. Mystery I guess. I am following your blog.

  2. Emma says:

    I’ve never heard of her. Thank you for bringing her to my attention. I’ve always been fascinated by stigmata, most likely in large part due to my Grandad’s life-long devotion to Padre Pio

    • I only heard of her when I was researching the post about Padre Pio. They were contemporaries but as far as I know they never met, though they live in adjoining countries. There has not been the volume of material about her as there is for Padre Pio, but she is equally as fascinating.

      • paul bergman says:

        Read “mystical phenomena in the life of theresa neumann” by josef teodorowicz. I have a copy if you can’t find it. $20. You will become a believer!

  3. Elin Gregory says:

    There’s elements there of the story of Sarah Jacobs, the fasting girl of Llanfihangel-ar-Arth but infinitely stranger. There’s an adequate, and very sad, explanation for Sarah’s two years without food, but who knows what is the truth in this case?

    • Absolutely Elin. They supervised Therese Neumann for two weeks also, the same way they did Sarah, but unlike the Jacobs girl, Therese didn’t die. Most cases of inedia have been proven false. This one never has.

  4. Cheryl says:

    Since it’s unlikely that any real scientific tests were carried out – eg, in a neutral environment where she couldn’t possibly have any opportunity to consume food, or injure herself – I’d say that I think she – like any other supposed ‘miracle’ – was a fake. Remember, when extraordinary claims are made, the onus of proof is on the one claiming, not the ones who don’t believe them.

    • I only agree with you to a point, Cheryl. Attempts were made to disprove her claims of inedia – she was watched 24/7 for two weeks by a doctor and four nurses. Her claims were not disproven. No other tests were conducted as far as I can ascertain. So she remains an enigma. I would however take the opposite view on your last statement in that although I think skepticism is very healthy, trying to prove an already established position is not beneficial to us. It negates the great virtue of boundless curiosity. I believe instead that the onus is on us to understand life and our place in it. That behoves us to establish for ourselves (and no one else) the way the world works. And if we’re not truly curious, what’s the point of being alive?

  5. lynnkelleyauthor says:

    I’m familiar with Padre Pio but I hadn’t heard of her. Fascinating, and she certainly fits the bill for a saint. No, the Vatican doesn’t jump at beatifying or canonizing anyone. They resist, from what I’ve heard. It takes a lot of research and testimonies and verified miracles for the whole process to be completed. The Vatican is very suspicious of any such claims.

    What I don’t understand is the stigmata being noted on their hands. Those huge nails Christ was pierced with went through the wrists, not hands. There’s a hole where the bones meet in the wrist, which held his weight. This is what I’ve read, anyway. If Therese and Padre Pio’s stigmatas were in their hands, why would that be? Because it wasn’t common knowledge that the piercings were through His wrists? If so, was it their intense faith that caused the stigmata?

    To me that wouldn’t disqualify them as saints, but I’m just curious.

    There are lots of strange stories regarding saints and those being considered for sainthood. I mean they really blow your mind when you read about them.

    The Song of Bernadette is one of my fave movies, ever since I was a kid. And Our Lady of Fatima, too! Going to your post on Padre Pio.

    I’m going to have to check out your book when it comes out.

    • You’re absolutely spot on Lynn, and this is what fascinates me also. Stigmata did not appear in Europe until after depictions of the crucifixion began to appear in Christian art about the twelfth century. So I believe this rules out stigmata having a supernatural cause. That means to me they are creations of the human imagination. The only question then is: were they made artificially – or with the mind? Like you, I believe that is some rare cases they were created by the power of the mind – another word for faith. Other explanations by skeptics stretch credulity just too far for mine.

  6. Wow – I’ve never heard of this one. I’ll have to do more research. where on earth do you come up with these stories? amazing research. amazing subject

  7. I’ve have followed the story of Therese Neumann since childhood in the 1970s. I have read virtually everything that exists on her life in English and German. I have visited and prayed at her grave in Konnersreuth a few times. The last time was in Autumn 2011. I had a very good visit with an elderly woman who knew had known Therese all her life. I read a remarkable book last year which is only available in German: “Converted Through Resl” which is a collection of stories by the daughter of one of the converts to Catholicism. The author’s father had been a student of esoteric thought and religion and had sought to disprove the manifestations at Konnersreuth……..needless to say God had other plans. It also covers the conversions of two famous Jews in Germany and one subsequently becoming a priest (Bruno Rothschild). I am needless to say convinced of the authenticity of the manifestations of Konnersreuth. I for ask the intercession of Resl every day.

  8. Peter Heise says:

    I believe I met Therese in 1948 in an Erholungsheim near Rosenheim when I was just seven years old. You can read my account of that meeting on my website http://www.holosshift.ca under “aboutme”.
    I intend to visit her gravesite in Konnersreuth sometime this year.

  9. Justice says:

    Great summary of Therese Neumann, Colin. My father is a WW2 veteran and actually spent an afternoon at the household with her and her family where she grew up. Its hard to coherce details out of my dad as he is so humble and his recollections of WW2 seem to almost be willingly put into a distant corner of his brain. The way my father describes it was that the Catholic champlin that came up to a group of GI’s and asked who wanted to go. This was during the war, albeit towards the end, but danger was still around them. My dad is a man of faith, and drove with the chaplain to a small, German village. My dad also has a wicked sense of humor. Knowing that Ms. Neumann is a stigmata, my dad sheepishly points out that she baked cookies for the GI’s that day and then proclaimed with a smile ‘don’t worry, she was wearing gloves’. He said that she enjoyed baking but never tasted the final result (according to 1 of the GI’s that spoke some german). She wore gloves and a head dress. he doesn’t recall much conversation due to the language barrier. I need to ask him more about what he recalls and I hope to write a short piece about faith and believing using my dads experiences during the war.

    • Having one of this century’s most famous stigmatics make him cookies makes for a remarkable war story! She’s not as well known as Padre Pio, or as venerated. You should definitely write the piece – it would be very interesting – and important – to record his memories.

    • Justice, I just came across your post when I was doing a little bit of research. I’m writing a book about mission that occurred near the end of WWII, and as I was interviewing one of my subject’s sisters, she mentioned that her brother had missed the opportunity to go see a stigmatic because he was assigned to this mission. He was a member of the 2nd Cavalry. i wonder if a lot of soldiers who were in Bavaria at the time went to see her, or if it was just one group. If you know any more about it, you could email me at elizabethletts@gmail.com Thanks!

  10. Betty Scherger says:

    Betty says: I heard about Therese when I was a young lady. A Canadian priest went to visit Therese when he was in Germany during the war. Father Schneider, told us that he went to see her in secular attire because he didn’t want her to know he was a priest. When she took his hand she said, “These are consecrated hands, they are the hands of a priest.” He told us he was very taken with her and believed she was a saint.

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