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According to the new book we have been reporting about, Padre Pio Under Investigation: the Secret Vatican Files, the famed priest was ordered to give half a dozen "depositions" under oath in 1921 -- even asked to kneel, with hand on a Bible -- and in those remarkable testimonies gave revealing details on his stigmata as well as the greatest mystery associated with him: bilocation.

As it happens, during the examination by Rome (ordered in the wake the the priest's growing fame), the Bishop Inquisitor, Monsignor Raffaello Carlo Rossi, told Pio to remove his wool gloves; the inquisitor then examined and detailed the mystical wounds.

The "wound" on the palm of the right hand, he found, was about two inches in diameter and covered with small scabs made of bloody matter.

But there was no hole, discovered the Vatican investigator. This is news. "It is obvious that there is no lesion of the skin, no hole, either central or lateral," wrote Monsignor Rossi. "From this, it seems possible to infer that the blood that is visible on the hand and that coagulates in these scabs comes out of the skin itself through exudation [our italics]."

The saint confirmed this -- and said the pain was such that his entire hand ached during the stigmata, most acute in the middle and when he clenched the hand. On the back of it was a hole about 1.4 inches in diameter, also with no lesion and directly aligned with the palm wound on the other side. The left was basically the same -- the palm wound about 1.6 inches, with also the wound on the back.

On Padre Pio's feet were seen something that appeared like a rosette of about an inch in diameter on the upper part -- a "wound" with whiter, delicate skin that at the time was not bleeding (but did on occasion). On the bottom, on his sole, meanwhile, the rosette was just over half an inch in diameter. Elsewhere, there was a "side wound" about an inch from the stigmatic priest's last rib that was also about an inch in size and -- while dormant, like the foot wounds -- sometimes bled to the point, said Pio, where blood would soak a handkerchief. He told Monsignor Rossi the stigmata, initially "invisible", began around 1911 when the priest felt pain in the areas where sores would later materialize -- starting that year as a red spot on September 8 (the Blessed Mother's official birthday). The side wound formed years later, on August 5, 1918.

Meanwhile, it was also revealed that when Padre Pio saw Jesus, Mary, and saints, it was as "intellectual visions" (they were not ocular -- seen with the physical eyes -- at least up to 1921, the time of the investigation). Pio further informed the inquisitor they had occurred "as isolated episodes" -- on occasion -- since he was twenty (though there had also been visual-like attacks from the evil one when he was a boy of ten).

When it came to bilocation -- the alleged phenomenon whereby a person is seen in a distant place he could not physically be, which was reported countless times by those who sought Pio's intercession -- the saint testified that he didn't think much about it, did not investigate claims, and could not determine whether his mind was transported to distant places "or what I saw was a representation of the place or the person; I do not know whether I was there with my body or without it." He was seen even in remote parts of the world, and with some frequency in the United States.

Usually, said Pio, it happened "while I was praying -- at first my attention was turned to prayer, then to this representation, and then I would find myself exactly as I was before." He could recall only two cases with specificity. "I think there were other cases, but these are those I still remember," he said in 1921, at the age of 34.

One was finding himself at the bedside of a sick woman in San Giovanni Rotundo; the other involved finding himself with a man in a convent whom he then rebuked for his vices, urging this man to convert.

It was the first time Padre Pio spoke about  his bilocations -- and according to the inquisitor seemed disinterested in the topic! "I don't think I even told my spiritual director, because I never gave it much thought," he said. "These people talked to me about it, but I was discreet; I never denied it, nor confirmed it." 

Those and other riveting details are in the new book, which was compiled by Father Francesco Castelli and includes never-before-seen interviews.

The documents became available after a 2006 edict by Pope Benedict XVI to open records up to 1939 of the Vatican's Holy Office. Canonized in 2002, Padre Pio was himself baffled by all that swirled around him. The monk remarked at one point, "I am a mystery to myself."

[resources: Padre Pio Under Investigation: the Secret Vatican Files]

[see also: Vatican files: Padre Pio suffered 'fevers' of up to 118 degrees]

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[Further note: was Saint Francis, as commonly believed, the first to bear stigmata, wonder Messori in the introduction -- or can we read anything into that passage from Paul in Galations (6:17): "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus"?]

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