A 31-year-old nun has given birth to a baby boy in Rieti, Italy, after experiencing abdominal pains she thought were stomach cramps.
After she was taken to a hospital, she gave birth to a baby and named him Francis after the current pope. The nun, originally from El Salvador, claims she had no idea she was pregnant.
The sister belongs to a convent which is located near the city of Rieti, which has a population of 47,700.
The nun belongs to the "Little Disciples of Jesus'' convent in Campomoro near Rieti, which manages an old people's home.
As news of the nun's pregnancy has spread, the mayor of Rieti, Simone Petrangi, asked local residents and media to give the woman privacy.
Clothes and donations have been collected and sent to the hospital where she gave birth.
"I did not know I was pregnant. I only felt a stomach pain," she told the Ansa news agency.
Other nuns at the convent also expressed shock at the mysterious pregnancy of a holy sister at their order, saying they were "very surprised", according to Italian media reports.
Don Fabrizio Borrelio, a local pastor, says he believes that the nun is telling the truth about being unaware of her pregnancy. He said the nun plans to take care of the baby herself.
The results of a study on reproductive health, published in the British Medical Journal, revealed that one in 200 US women claim to have given birth without ever having had sexual intercourse.
The BMJ reports that of the women who took part in the study, 45 (0.5%) reported at least one virgin pregnancy, "unrelated to the use of assisted reproductive technology".
They claim to have conceived without vaginal intercourse or in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).
The BMJ article notes that virgin births, or parthenogenesis (from the Greek parthenos for virgin and genesis for birth), can occur in non-humans as a consequence of "asexual reproduction, where growth and development of the embryo occurs without fertilisation".
However, the authors of the study, entitled "Like a virgin (mother)", warn that researchers need to take into account the possibility of fallible memory on the part of respondents.