The rain continued to fall as I drove through the city of Woonsocket, Rhode Island. The maze of streets, mixed with the weather and the amount of construction on those roads the GPS was sending me down, was a test of patience. I was glad when I saw the arched entrance of Cimetiere du Precieux Sago – the Precious Blood Cemetery – at the junction of Diamond Hill Road and Rathbun Street. Entering the cemetery which straddles the Rhode Island and Massachusetts border, I turned right at the first intersection and a couple seconds later I was parked next to the grave of Marie Rose Ferron.
The stone slab marking the grave of Marie Rose Ferron is engraved with a crown of thorns resting atop a cross and the image of a dove at the base of the cross. The words carved into the granite are “La Petite Rose / Victime de son Jesus / Marie Rose Ferron / Stigmatisee / Nee 24 Mai 1902 / Dec. 11 Mai 1936 / A l’age de 33 ans.” The word “stigmatisee” caught my attention and told me I had arrived at the grave I sought – Marie Rose Ferron is considered to be America’s first stigmatic. Note: While her birth name is “Marie Rose,” she was referred to as “Rose” and others as “Little Rose.”
A stigmatisee, or stigmatic, is a person who displays the bodily wounds, scars and pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ, such as the hands, feet, and on the side of the body. Stigmatics are primarily associated with the Roman Catholic faith and the vast majority of stigmatics are women. Unofficially, there have been more than five hundred known stigmatics who have displayed wounds similar to those inflicted upon Christ. One of the first recorded stigmatic was Stephen Langton, whose wounds were reported in 1222.
Note: Most lists name Stephen Langton as the first stigmatic, however, there is an earlier record of a man showing possible signs of the stigmata. In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul writes: “From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (6:17). While Paul does not dive into describing these marks, it could be he was showing signs of the stigmata.
Marie Rose Ferron was born May 24, 1902 in St. Germaine de Grantham, Quebec, Canada. She was the tenth of fifteen children of Jean-Baptiste and Rose Ferron. In 1906 the family moved to Falls River, Massachusetts. It was here, at the age of six, that Rose had her first vision. The vision was of the Christ child with a cross, looking at Rose with sadness in his eyes. From this point on, her religious devotion was unwavering.
At the age of thirteen, Rose suffered from a serious illness that would cripple her for life. She was taking dinner to her father on a cold, wet day in early spring. This mysterious illness left her right hand and left foot paralyzed. Almost two years later, her paralyzed right hand was cured when it was dipped in holy water. Despite the healing of her hand, Rose’s foot remained paralyzed for the rest of her life and for the next twelve years she could not walk without using crutches. By the time she reached the age of twenty-five, Rose was confined to a bed.
However, a few years before she was confined to a bed, Rose suffered another paralysis. At the age of twenty-two, she was invited by a younger sister to have some freshly baked bread. Rose refused, claiming it would be the death of her. Rose finally gave in to her sister’s pleas and tasted the bread. Rose suffered greatly from eating the bread and many thought she was going to die, however, she mostly recovered. The end result of giving into this temptation was her left hand became crippled and remained deformed until her death.
After this incident, Rose never partook of solid food again. For the next eleven years she ate no solid food and even liquid food was disagreeable to her. In the years before her death, Rose even refused water for long periods of time, longer than the average person could go without it. Throughout this suffering, she did hunger and thirst, but her religious suffering prevented her from partaking nourishment.
One thing she could take was the Eucharist and here’s where her religious devotion turned mystic in nature. Rose would often fall into the state of ecstasy, where she would have visions. Most often, she would fall into ecstasy when priests visited for prayer and to give her the Eucharist. During this state of ecstasy, Rose would be subject to the Phenomenon of Weight. The normally seventy-five pound woman would become so supernaturally heavy and rigid – she could not be lifted by four grown men. She would also sing hymns in French to Jesus, Mary and Joseph while in the state of ecstasy – these hymns were written down by her friends and family and some are still sung to this day. Rose would accept the Eucharist which immediately disappeared, despite showing no signs of swallowing it, as if it was instantaneously absorbed by the body.
In 1926, Rose began showing the signs of the stigmata. Rose was one of the few stigmatics in the world to show all the stigmata. She displayed the five wounds of Christ (one on each hand, one on each foot, and one on the chest/side), markings of the crown of thorns, and markings on her back similar to the scourging of Christ. She also had a shoulder wound and, for a period of time, suffered from bleeding from the eyes. The five wounds and the crown of thorns would remain with her for the remainder of her life. The blood that flowed from her wounds was described as a sweet smelling perfume, rather than the metallic smell most often associated with blood.
During Lent of 1927, the wounds of the scourging began appearing regularly beginning on Fridays. Rose began showing the markings on her back and arms, like she had been struck by a whip. Most often, these wounds disappeared after a day or two. Note: In reading about stigamtics, I found it interesting that a lot of them start bleeding from the stigmata on Fridays and often stop by Sunday. Like Rose, it is reported that the blood shed by many stigmatics often has a sweet, perfume-like, smell to it.
In August of 1929, Rose began bleeding from the eyes and mouth. Many who witnessed Rose’s bleeding described it as being horrific in nature, with her face unrecognizable due to the amount of blood covering it.
By 1931, most of the signs of the stigmata halted, except for the crown of thorns, which remained with her until her death five years later. On May 11, 1936, Rose’s suffering would end and she was finally at peace. However, before she found eternal peace, she had to suffer through two weeks of immense pain during which she lost her sight. She suffered from a pain in her head that made every sound a painful blow. On her last day on Earth, she lost her ability to hear and talk and soon after her suffering was over as she went to her eternal reward.
Thousands gathered to remember Rose. The religious gathered to celebrate her life, and the profane and curious attended in an attempt to see the markings that had been a large part of Rose’s life. While the exact number of people who paid final respects to Rose is not known, sources list visitors as being between four and fifteen thousand people.
I finished paying my respects to Marie “Little Rose” Ferron and offered up a small prayer as the rain began falling, as if nature herself was weeping at the lost of a precious one.