At 27, Emiliano Aden must be Argentina’s youngest stigmatic. His life changed on the afternoon of 21 February 1996, a hot day by any standard; in Palermo, a suburb of the Federal capital Buenos Aires, it was an unbearable 42°C (108°F). Aden, then aged about 19, was returning home with his girlfriend from a 12-hour shift in a supermarket. As he parked his car, he felt a piercing sensation on his forehead. It was the beginning of his stigmata.
When I interviewed Aden in January 2001, his housekeeper showed me into his bedroom, where he was resting: “He’s in ecstasy,” she said. The wound on his left wrist began to ooze blood, which was disconcerting, but I asked him how he felt during the first episode.
“I did not feel dizzy – just pain, like heat. It felt as if something was moving on my skin. I asked my girlfriend if there was something there – she could see nothing, but I kept insisting.”
Aden felt increasingly anxious that something unusual was happening and drove straight to the Pirovano Hospital. “I was very nervous when we arrived. I asked my girlfriend to help me inside. I began shouting loudly. A nurse rushed over and made me lie on a gurney.”
I asked if the wound was visible at that moment. “Not then,” he said. “A physician examined me and asked for an X-ray, and analysis of blood and urine. When the results came back, he said I just had a severe migraine and prescribed an analgesic. My girlfriend called my brother to get the car as we wanted to walk back.
“I felt hot. I told my girlfriend that I did not want to be in the sun and we should cross to the shady footpath. I felt a burning sensation; it was not the sun’s rays but like heat from a fire. I saw a tap in a garden and went in to wet my head. When the water touched me, I felt as if my head was opening.”
At first, the still-bleeding wound was not cross-shaped, but then the symbol appeared: “It was bleeding, but not ordinary blood. It was cold… very cold.”
He ran off, and fainted when he got home. His mother, sister and girlfriend carried him to his room. They couldn’t stop the bleeding, but didn’t call a doctor. “My family are loyal Catholics,” Aden explained. “They called a priest who knew me but he didn’t want to come.”
Initially, no member of the Church wanted to examine Aden – they assumed he had, blasphemously, made the wound himself. A week later, they wrote that they wanted to test whether real blood was flowing from his forehead. Aden was hurt and offended.
Aden shifted in his bed and asked me to leave for 10 minutes. From the door I could see him preparing to pray. When we resumed, I asked him whether the other stigmata were as painful.
“No. They are more like an inner pain, not born from the wrists but from my heart. The left wrist bleeds first. I often feel the heat. On the other hand, when I see something that I do not like, I feel deep cold.”
He stopped speaking and closed his eyes. As he pressed his eye sockets with his fingers, a drop of blood from his forehead fell across his cheek and stopped at the edge of his moustache. I asked if he wanted to stop, but he insisted on proceeding and we talked about the third stigmata, a deep wound which appears spontaneously when he prays.
Pointing to a photo of his girlfriend, he said: “That young girl always keeps me company. She is my only treasure and the only witness of my pains. I really feel pain.”
Adan believes the stigmata come from praying to St Luis del Palmar, a popular saint in rural Argentina and patron saint of Corrientes, the town where Aden’s father settled in 1914 after fleeing the war in Europe and where Aden grew up. We talked about the symbol-filled dreams that disturb him each night. He is unconcerned by the Church’s indifference; the Last Judgement does not depend on it, he said: “God saved us all a long time ago. Only the transformation of our individual souls matters now.”
He fell asleep and his housekeeper asked me, curtly, to go. As I left, I saw a queue of people waiting to be touched by the divine magic of Emiliano Aden.