The church of Santissime Stimmate di San Francesco was designed by G. B. Contini (1642-1723) and rebuilt between 1714 and 1721. The facade, the work of Antonio Carnevari (1681-1764), is crowned with a cross and a pair of crossed arms, the emblem of the Franciscans.
The church was built for the Confraternita delle Santissime Stimmate (Confraternity of the Stigmata of St Francis). Stigmata is a Greek word meaning 'marks' or 'signs', and in a Christian context they refer to the wounds of Christ Crucified. St. Francis of Assisi is the first recorded stigmatic in Christian history. He is believed to have received the five wounds of Christ in 1224, two years before his death.
While Francis was fasting on Mount La Verna, a six-winged angel appeared to him as he prayed. He noted that the angel was crucified; when it departed he was left with wounds in his feet, hands and side. St. Francis' first biographer, Thomas of Celano, reports the event in his First Life of St. Francis, which was published in 1230.
A cross and a pair of crossed arms duly became the emblem of the Franciscan Order. The right arm represents that of Christ, the left that of Saint Francis. Francis's arm is enclosed in a sleeve, representing the habit he and his followers wore, while Christ's arm is bare. The palm of each hand is usually marked with a small cross or a wound.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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