Feast Day : April 11
Patronage: pharmacists; tuberculosis sufferers
Gemma Galgani was born on March 12, 1878, in Camigliano, a small town near Lucca in Tuscany, Italy. She was the oldest daughter of eight children. Her mother died when she was seven, and her childhood was fraught with hardships. She was chronically ill. Her relatives, burdened with caring for her, treated her poorly. From an early age, she exhibited supernatural gifts: visitations, visits by Christ, assaults by the devil, and stigmata. Gemma took her First Communion on June 17, 1887. She had an intense desire to become a Passionist nun, but was turned away because of her ill health. At age 19, Gemma turned down two marriage proposals and then fell seriously ill with meningitis. She felt herself tempted by the devil, and prayed for help to the Venerable Francis Possenti (a Passionist later canonized as St. Gabriel Francis of Our Lady of Sorrows). She was miraculously cured, and credited the intercession of Possenti. The stigmata appeared on her wrists, feet and side from 1899 to 1901. The first episode occurred on June 8, 1899. Gemma felt an intense sorrow for her sins and a willingness to suffer. She had a vision of her guardian angel and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary opened her mantle and covered her, and told her she was much loved by Jesus, who was giving her a special grace. Then Jesus appeared with his wounds open; flames, not blood, issued forth. The flames touched Gemma’s hand, feet and heart, and she felt as though she were dying. Mary supported her for several hours. The vision ended, and Gemma found herself on her knees, a sharp pain in her hands, feet and heart. Her guardian angel helped her into bed, and blood began to flow from her wounds. Thereafter, every Thursday evening to Friday afternoon, Gemma would fall into a rapture and the five wounds would open and issue a bright red blood. She would utter the words of Jesus and Mary. The wounds would abruptly stop bleeding, close and leave only white marks. Sometimes the obliteration took until Saturday or Sunday to complete. When the ecstasies ended, Gemma would serenely go about her normal business. However, she suffered great inner torments and trials from the devil. Throughout these difficult experiences, she maintained a great serenity and peace. A Passionist, Father Germano, took an interest in Gemma and became her spiritual director and confessor. An expert on fraudulent mystical phenomena, he had Gemma thoroughly tested and was convinced her experiences were genuine. He recorded her utterances and later became her biographer. With Germano’s help, Gemma went to live with a family as a mother’s helper, where she was shielded from unfriendly attention and had the freedom to experience her ecstasies. In 1901, Germano forbade her to accept the stigmata. She prayed and the phenomenon ceased, though the white marks remained. Gemma sought to help the poor, and especially prayed for the conversion of souls. In 1903, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the spine. She died peacefully with a smile on her lips in the company of her parish priest on Holy Saturday, April 11, 1903. Gemma’s rich visionary life was recorded in detail in her diaries and letters, as well as in Germano’s writings. She was especially known for her angelic visions. She saw her guardian angel and heard his voice. Her conversations with her angel were observed and recorded by others who could hear only one side of the conversation—hers. Germano commented that whenever she saw or listened to her angel, she entered into an ecstatic state of consciousness, lost in another world; as soon as she turned her eyes away, she resumed her usual personality. Gemma’s angel was her constant companion, so familiar that she often treated him like a brother. She was once admonished by Germano—who overheard one of her one-way conversations—that she should treat him with more respect. She agreed, and vowed to remain 100 steps behind the angel whenever she saw him coming. Whenever Gemma was plagued by evil spirits, she called upon her angel. In 1900 she recorded an episode in which she was harassed for hours by the devil in the form of a horrible “little fellow.” She was assaulted by blows upon her shoulders while she prayed. Her angel appeared and, curiously, attempted to beg off her request to stay with her all night. He told her he had to sleep. When she replied that the “Angels of Jesus do not need to sleep,” he said he still needed to rest. Nonetheless, he remained, and spread his wings over her while she slept. Sometimes the angel was severe with her, in word or expression, as a way of trying to keep her on the straight and narrow spiritual path. He would find fault with her, and tell her he was ashamed of her. If she strayed from the path, he would depart from her presence for awhile. Perhaps the most remarkable trademark of Gemma’s angel was his couriership. She would send him off on errands to deliver verbal messages to people in distant places, and return with their replies. Gemma considered this angelic postal service to be a natural thing, and did not like asking for stamps. Others reportedly received the messages. Sometimes replies were delivered back to her by the guardian angel of Father Germano. When some suggested this was the work of the devil, Germano subjected Gemma to various spiritual tests, asking for irrefutable signs, and got them. For one test, Germano told Gemma to give her aunt Cecilia a letter addressed to him; she was to lock it in a place unknown to Gemma. Cecilia gave the letter to a priest who locked it in a chest in his room and pocketed the key. The next day Gemma sensed the angel passing with her letter. She notified the surprised priest, who found the letter missing from the chest. The letter was received by Germano—apparently by angelic post. This test was successfully repeated a second time under different circumstances. Gemma was visited by other angels, and often by Germano’s guardian angel, who, she said, had a brilliant star over his head. No thought or deed of hers ever escaped angelic attention. If she was distracted in prayer, her angel would punish her. If she did not feel well, or if she would not eat enough, the angel exhibited a tender side, inquiring after her welfare and urging her to eat. Many other marvels were ascribed to her. Like St. Martin de Porres, she was seen levitating and kissing a crucifix on a wall in her home. She also could “smell” the purity of a person’s soul. If she was in the company of a wicked person, she found they gave off such a stench that she became physically ill. She reportedly undertook a mystical fast of extraordinary length at the end of her life, from Whitsunday on June 1, 1902, until the day she died. She would eat only the Blessed Sacrament. Though she never officially was a Passionist, Gemma‘s remains are interred at the Passionist monastery at Lucca. She had accurately predicted it would be built two years after her death.