During the Middle Ages popular piety focused with increased intensity on the Passion of Christ and therefore held in special honor the wounds inflicted upon him in his suffering. Although many medieval mystics totaled these wounds at 5,466, popular devotion focused upon the five wounds associated directly with his crucifixion, namely the nail wounds on his hands and feet as well as the lance wound which pierced his heart, as opposed to the other 5,461 received during Christ's scourging and by his crown of thorns. A "shorthand" image containing two hands, two feet, and disembodied wound served as a memory aid for such devotion. Veneration of these sacred wounds is seen as early as 532 when St John the Evangelist was believed to have revealed to Pope Boniface II a Mass in their honor. Ultimately it was through the preaching of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) that reverence of the wounds became widespread. For these saints, the wounds pointed to the fulfillment of Christ's love because God, humbled himself by taking on vulnerable flesh and died to free mankind from death. The preachers encouraged Christians to strive to imitate this perfect example of love.
Thomas à Kempis, in the Imitation of Christ, Book II/1, 1425, speaks of resting - abiding - in Christ's wounds. "If you can not soar up as high as Christ sitting on his throne, behold him hanging on his cross. Rest in Christ's Passion and live willingly in his holy wounds. You will gain marvelous strength and comfort in adversities You will not care that men despise you. . . Had we but, with Thomas, put our fingers into the print of his nails and thrust our hands into his side! If we had we but known ourselves his sufferings in a deep and serious consideration and tasted the astonishing greatness of his love, the joys and miseries of the life would soon become indifferent to us." See Miri Rubin. Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. 302-306.
Theologically, the wounds were the channels through which Christ's blood was spilled. This "precious blood" sealed for Christians a new covenant to replace the old covenant of Moses. Whereas once a sacrificial lamb was offered to God in atonement for sins, now divine blood from the only victim pure enough to atone for all of humanity's transgressions was offered. Thus, Christ's death was a perfect sacrifice that destroyed the power of sin, and therefore death, over humanity. Particular significance is offered to the lance wound from which flowed blood and water. The blood is linked with the Eucharistic blood received at Masses and the water with the cleansing of original sin at baptism (the two sacraments believed to be necessary to achieve eternal life). Thus, the Church, just as Eve issued from the side of Adam, is considered to be mystically born of Christ's wounds via the sacraments. The blood of Christ's sacrifice will wash and therefore purify and redeem the Church.
The emblem of the Five Wounds, shown as Christ's pierced heart flanked by his wounded hands and feet, was adopted by the Henriquez (the royal family of Portugal) as a coat of arms. Although no Church-wide feast has been established in honor of the wounds, specific orders, such as the Passionists, and certain ethnic groups, such as the Portuguese, hold a feast day Mass and prayer office.
Series of the Arma Christi, the emblems of the Passion of Christ. The depiction of these emblems paralleled the increasing display of heraldic badges in the later Middle Ages
GMPC1 Great Malvern, Priory Church (Benedictine), south choir aisle (not original placement) Five Wounds of Christ, 1440s.
GMPC2 Great Malvern, Priory Church (Benedictine), south choir aisle (not original placement) Spear that pierced Christ's side and sponge with gall offred as drink, 1440s.
GMPC3 Great Malvern,
Priory Church (Benedictine), south choir aisle (not original placement)
Veronica's Veil, believed to have been imprinted with the face of Christ
when he wiped the sweat from his face on the way to Calvary, relic displayed
in the Vatican and object of intense devotion, 1440s.