The most dramatic physical manifestation of the passion of Christ since early medieval times has been the phenomenon of the stigmata. Marks resembling Christ's wounds appear on an individual's hands, feet, and side. This inexplicable happening usually produces both skeptics and believers in Christian and secular communities. Ron Hansen's novel, Mariette In Ecstasy depicts this process in a poetic and poignant way. In 1906, 17-year-old Mariette Baptiste enters an upstate New York convent. She is the daughter of a wealthy doctor and sister of the prioress, Mother Celine. Her beauty, intense devotion, and asceticism set her apart from the other nuns who are all highly conscious of fighting the sin of pride. While her sister is dying of cancer, Mariette experiences Christ's wounds. The priest who hears confessions at the convent respects her humility and her astonishment at the miracle. But others in the convent are jealous. When villagers want to see the stigmata, the new prioress realizes that Mariette has become a threat to the organization, poverty, and discipline of the community. She sends Mariette home in an effort to protect her own authority.
Hansen's brief but enlightening novel sheds light on the difficulty religious communities have living with the awesome burdens of mystery and ardent spirituality.