STIGMATICS – history and outlook

by Thomas Sojer

      STIGMATICS is not one project. Since April 2018 three projects are linked together as a cluster of projects led by Tine Van Osselaer. All three units address the phenomena of stigmatization in the 19th and the early 20th century in a different way. The ERC Project “Between saints and celebrities. The devotion and promotion of stigmatics in Europe, c.1800-1950” started in 2015 with Tine as a primary investigator (PI), Andrea Graus as a postdoctoral researcher and Leonardo Rossi as a Ph.D. student. Two years later the University of Antwerp funded a follow-up project combined with a new Ph.D. position, held by Kristof Smeyers. Most recent a joint FWO and FWF (Austrian Research Fund) project in collaboration with Dr. Maria Heidegger of the University of Innsbruck launched in April 2018 and provided the project cluster with another Ph.D. position, held by Thomas Sojer.


      STIGMATICS is not only diverse from an institutional point of view. Each member focuses on different geographical and timely aspects within Europe in the Long 19th century. The examined countries are: Belgium and Germany (Tine), France and Spain (Andrea), Italy and the Vatican State (Leonardo), the United Kingdom together with the Commonwealth (Kristof) and finally the Habsburg Empire (Thomas). The various temporal foci correspond with first occurrences in the late 18th century and reach on to different waves and renaissances in the following 150 years until WW2.

      Beyond the spatial and temporal dynamics every member links the results with different research fields in the broader contemporary historical discourses. This is expressed in a very vivid conference and workshop participation all over Europe. Andrea, for example, addresses questions of history of medicine and Kristof discusses his results within Victorian studies. Leonardo explores the history of Inquisition in the 19th century and Thomas works on history of pain. Tine combines a broad range of research fields from history of emotions, gender studies up to visual history. Additionally, the project cluster invites scholars around the world to cooperate and exchange on results and ideas, especially within the frameworks of workshops and conferences organised at the Ruusbroec Institute.

      However, as much as diverse and multi-layered the project cluster might be the daily work of all involved scholars is closely linked to each other, if not necessarily interdependent. Very often the work of one team member builds upon the work of another. The close cooperation manifests itself in daily discussions of results and ideas and shared publications as well as presentations. Practically, the shared offices in the Ruusbroec Institute resemble a unified map of Europe, transforming the second floor into a historical research lab on stigmatics.

      In contrast to the shared rooms of the Ruusbroec Institute every member works closely together with the numerous archives of the relevant regions or related libraries. Various research trips of the members include trips to the Vatican Library, the isle of Mallorca, foggy Irish villages, the alpine scenery of Munich and the most baroque streets of Vienna, resonating Antwerp’s tradition as gateway to all over the world.

      A major enterprise of all three projects is the establishment of a digital database, collecting all traceable cases of stigmatics in the Long 19th century. It includes biographies, texts, iconographies, painted as well as photographed portraits and visual material of important artefacts. The cases are located on an interactive map of Europe. Special tools enable a spatial as well as temporal selection: The user will be able to search for the occurrences of stigmata at a single point in time as well as over a period. Simultaneously, it will be possible to look at all of Europe as well as specific geographical regions. At this point the collection already contains more than 400 cases all over Europe and is still growing.

File:Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata.jpg

      Within trans-historical debates the phenomenon of stigmatisation in the Long 19th century is of special importance, because as results show we experience a continuity as well as a revival of medieval thought and practices in the midst of the dawn of modernity. In this sense STIGMATICS adds new perspectives to the hundred years old research of medieval mysticism done by the Ruusbroec Institute. The specific interrelation of 19th century Catholicism and medieval concepts of mysticism leads the institution’s tradition to new frontiers without leaving behind its original mission.

     The multi-layered phenomena of stigmata provide the project cluster with a trans-temporal, trans-national, trans-disciplinary and trans-lingual (Dutch, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Latin, Lebanese, Portuguese and Spanish) essence, creating variety in unity. Yet – messis quidem multa, operarii autem pauci – although the project cluster looks back at a successful history of developments the literally huge phenomena of stigmata is still in urgent need of further investigation beyond the ongoing research. We will see what future brings.

One thought on “STIGMATICS – history and outlook

  1. We are in Sri Lanka (close to India).
    In our country we have a Stigmatist, Servant of God Helena(1848-1931) of Gonawila. .Now the cause is in the stage of Diocesan Inquiry. Her Biogrphy was written by famous Bishop Edmund Peiris O.M.I. (Bishop of Chilaw). Most of the letters and documents decade and not preserved properly, but still available, but very difficult to read as they were written in old ink-immersing pens and on both sides of the paper. This Cause was delayed due 50 years rule and ignorance of the Catholic Hicracy in Sri Lanka.
    We are searching for a Roman Postulator, who can speak english. CAN YOU PLEASE HELP US?
    J B P Dissanayake, Hon. Convener, Hon. Helena Foundation of Gonawila, Sri Lanka.


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