The term "stigmata" is found in one of Paul's epistles in the New Testament: "From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." (see Galatians 6:17) The word "marks" is "stigmata" in the Greek language, but it is widely accepted by theologians that the apostle Paul is not referring to supernatural bleeding wounds like that of the stigmatic but to the pains he suffered for his faith. The apostle was beaten, scourged and imprisoned numerous times for the cause of Christ, even once stoned and left for dead, so his body was heavily scarred from the violence he endured.
Saint Francis of Assisi is the first stigmatic reported in History and an account of the phenomenon is found in Thomas of Celano's writings. Thomas of Celano was Saint Francis' first biographer and his account says the marks appeared after the saint had a vision of a crucified seraph, the angel's wounds then appearing on his own body. In 1935, Dr Edward Hartung suggested Saint Francis' ailment was quartan malaria, a disease affecting the liver, stomach and spleen causing intense pain and sometimes symmetrical purpura, a purple hemorrhage of blood into the skin. Punctured purpura may have caused bleeding of the stigmata.
Many other stigmatics have been reported throughout the history of the Catholic Church. It is worth noting the validity of this phenomenon is not recognized by all Christians, Protestants and Orthodox Christians having almost never reported any stigmata cases. Psychiatrists have observed that stigmata can be self-inflicted by deeply religious patients as an act of piety. These patients usually suffer from a dissociative identity disorder. Stigmata are more common in women than men.