Gemma Galgani

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Saint Gemma Galgani
Galg gem.jpg
The Flower of Lucca
The Virgin of Lucca
BornMaria Gemma Umberta Galgani
(1878-03-12)March 12, 1878
Camigliano, Capannori, Italy
DiedApril 11, 1903(1903-04-11) (aged 25)
Lucca, Italy
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
Beatified May 14, 1933 by Pope Pius XI
Canonized May 2, 1940, Saint Peter's Basilica, Vatican City by Pope Pius XII
Major shrine Passionist Monastery in Lucca, Italy
Feast April 11 (celebrated by Passionists on May 16)
Attributes Passionist robe, flowers (lilies and roses), guardian angel, stigmata, heavenward gaze
Patronage Students, Pharmacists, Paratroopers and Parachutists, loss of parents, those suffering back injury or back pain, those suffering with headaches/migraines, those struggling with temptations to impurity and those seeking purity of heart.

Maria Gemma Umberta Galgani (March 12, 1878 – April 11, 1903) was an Italian mystic, venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church since 1940. [1] She has been called the "Daughter of the Passion" because of her profound imitation of the Passion of Christ. [2] She is especially venerated in the Congregation of the Passion (Passionists)

Mysticism Practice of religious experiences during alternate states of consciousness

Mysticism is the practice of religious ecstasies, together with whatever ideologies, ethics, rites, myths, legends, and magic may be related to them. It may also refer to the attainment of insight in ultimate or hidden truths, and to human transformation supported by various practices and experiences.

Saint one who has been recognized for having an exceptional degree of holiness, sanctity, and virtue

A saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness or likeness or closeness to God. However, the use of the term "saint" depends on the context and denomination. In Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Oriental Orthodox, and Lutheran doctrine, all of their faithful deceased in Heaven are considered to be saints, but some are considered worthy of greater honor or emulation; official ecclesiastical recognition, and consequently veneration, is given to some saints through the process of canonization in the Catholic Church or glorification in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Passionists Roman Catholic religious group

The Passionists are a Roman Catholic religious institute founded by Saint Paul of the Cross with a special emphasis on the Passion of Jesus Christ. Professed members use the initials C.P. after their names. A known symbol of the congregation is the labeled emblem of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, surmounted by a cross and is often sewn into the clothing attire of its congregants.


Early life

Gemma Umberta Maria Galgani was born on March 12, 1878, in the hamlet of Camigliano in the provincial town of Capannori. [3] Gemma was the fifth of eight children; her father, Enrico Galgani, was a prosperous pharmacist. [4]

Capannori Comune in Tuscany, Italy

Capannori is an Italian town and comune in the province of Lucca, in northern Tuscany.

Pharmacist healthcare professional who practices in pharmacy

Pharmacists, also known as chemists or druggists, are health professionals who practice in pharmacy, the field of health sciences focusing on safe and effective medication use. Pharmacists undergo university-level education to understand the biochemical mechanisms and actions of drugs, drug uses, therapeutic roles, side effects, potential drug interactions, and monitoring parameters. This is mated to anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology. Pharmacists interpret and communicate this specialized knowledge to patients, physicians, and other health care providers.

Soon after Galgani's birth, the family relocated north from Camigliano to a large new home in the Tuscan city of Lucca in a move which was undertaken to facilitate an improvement in the children's education. Gemma's mother, Aurelia Galgani, contracted tuberculosis. Because of this hardship, Gemma was placed in a private nursery school run by Elena and Ersilia Vallini when she was two-and-a-half years old. She was regarded as a highly intelligent child. [1]

Tuscany Region of Italy

Tuscany is a region in central Italy with an area of about 23,000 square kilometres and a population of about 3.8 million inhabitants (2013). The regional capital is Florence (Firenze).

Lucca Comune in Tuscany, Italy

Lucca is a city and comune in Tuscany, Central Italy, on the Serchio, in a fertile plain near the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is the capital of the Province of Lucca. It is famous for its intact Renaissance-era city walls.

Tuberculosis Infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease usually caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) bacteria. Tuberculosis generally affects the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body. Most infections do not have symptoms, in which case it is known as latent tuberculosis. About 10% of latent infections progress to active disease which, if left untreated, kills about half of those affected. The classic symptoms of active TB are a chronic cough with blood-containing sputum, fever, night sweats, and weight loss. It was historically called "consumption" due to the weight loss. Infection of other organs can cause a wide range of symptoms.

Several members of the Galgani family died during this period. Their firstborn child, Carlo, and Gemma's little sister Giulia died at an early age. On September 17, 1885, Aurelia Galgani died from tuberculosis, which she had suffered from for five years, and Gemma's beloved brother Gino died from the same disease while studying for the priesthood. [1]


Galgani was sent to a Catholic half-boarding school in Lucca run by the Sisters of St. Zita. She excelled in French, arithmetic, and music. At the age of nine, Galgani was allowed to receive her first communion.

The Oblates of the Holy Spirit is a religious institute of pontifical right whose members profess public vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience and follow the evangelical way of life in common.


At age 16, Galgani developed spinal meningitis, but recovered. She attributed her extraordinary cure to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the intercession of the Venerable Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows (later canonized), and Saint Marguerite Marie Alacoque. [1]

Meningitis inflammation of membranes around the brain and spinal cord

Meningitis is an acute inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known collectively as the meninges. The most common symptoms are fever, headache, and neck stiffness. Other symptoms include confusion or altered consciousness, vomiting, and an inability to tolerate light or loud noises. Young children often exhibit only nonspecific symptoms, such as irritability, drowsiness, or poor feeding. If a rash is present, it may indicate a particular cause of meningitis; for instance, meningitis caused by meningococcal bacteria may be accompanied by a characteristic rash.

Sacred Heart Christian devotion symbolising the love of Jesus Christ

The devotion to the Sacred Heart is one of the most widely practiced and well-known Roman Catholic devotions, taking the heart of the resurrected Body as the representation of the love by Jesus Christ God, which is "his heart, pierced on the Cross", and "in the texts of the New Testament is revealed to us as God's boundless and passionate love for mankind".

Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows Passionist clerical student

Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows C.P was an Italian Passionist clerical student. Born to a professional family, he gave up ambitions of a secular career to enter the Passionist Congregation. His life in the monastery was not extraordinary, yet he followed the rule of the congregation perfectly and was known for his great devotion to the sorrows of the Virgin Mary. He died from tuberculosis at the age of 23 in Isola del Gran Sasso, in the province of Teramo. He was canonized by Pope Benedict XV in 1920.

Shortly after turning 18 Galgani was orphaned, and thereafter she was responsible for the upbringing of her younger siblings, which she did with her aunt Carolina. She declined two marriage proposals and became a housekeeper with the Giannini family. [1]


According to a biography written by her spiritual director, Germanus Ruoppolo, Galgani began to display signs of the stigmata on June 8, 1899, at the age of twenty-one. She stated that she had spoken with her guardian angel, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and other saints—especially Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows. According to her testimonies, she sometimes received special messages from them about current or future events. With her health in decline, Ruoppolo directed her to pray for the disappearance of her stigmata; she did so and the marks ceased. [1] She said that she resisted the Devil's attacks often.

Galgani was frequently found in a state of ecstasy. She has also been reputed to levitate: she claimed that on one occasion, when her arms were around the crucifix in her dining room and she was kissing the wound on the side of the Crucified, she found herself raised from the floor. [5]


Galgani is alleged to have experienced stigmata on June 8, 1899, on the eve of the feast of the Sacred Heart. She writes:

I felt an inward sorrow for my sins, but so intense that I have never felt the like again ... My will made me detest them all, and promise willingly to suffer everything as expiation for them. Then the thoughts crowded thickly within me, and they were thoughts of sorrow, love, fear, hope and comfort.

In the subsequent rapture, Gemma saw her guardian angel in the company of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

The Blessed Virgin Mary opened her mantle and covered me with it. At that very moment Jesus appeared with his wounds all open; blood was not flowing from them, but flames of fire which in one moment came and touched my hands, feet and heart. I felt I was dying, and should have fallen down but for my Mother (Blessed Virgin Mary) who supported me and kept me under her mantle. Thus I remained for several hours. Then my Mother kissed my forehead, the vision disappeared and I found myself on my knees; but I still had a keen pain in my hands, feet and heart. I got up to get into bed and saw that blood was coming from the places where I had the pain. I covered them as well as I could and then, helped by my guardian angel, got into bed. [5]

Physician Pietro Pfanner who had known Saint Gemma since her childhood examined her claims of stigmata. He observed hysterical behaviour and suspected she may have suffered from a form of neurosis. [6] Pfanner examined Gemma and noted spots of blood on the palms of her hands but when he ordered the blood to be wiped away with a wet towel there was no wound. He concluded the phenomena was self-inflicted. This was confirmed on another occasion by Gemma's fostermother Cecilia Giannini who observed a sewing needle on the floor next to her. [6]

Psychologist Donovan Rawcliffe has written that her stigmata was caused by "self-inflicted wounds of a major hysteric." [7]


Gemma Galgani, published in 1916 La seraphique Gemma Galgani (HS85-10-31647).jpg
Gemma Galgani, published in 1916

Family and public

Galgani was well known in the vicinity of Lucca before her death, especially to those in poverty. Opinions of her were divided. Some people admired her extraordinary virtues and referred to her as The Virgin of Lucca out of pious respect and admiration. Others mocked her (including her younger sister, Angelina, who apparently used to make fun of Galgani during such experiences, [8] and during Galgani's canonization process was deemed as "unfit" to testify due to accusations of attempting to profit from Galgani's reputation). In light of the extraordinary events surrounding her life, some skeptics thought that she had a mental illness.


Galgani was often treated with disdain by some in the Church's hierarchy; even her own confessor was at times skeptical of her mystical gifts. Her spiritual director, Ruoppolo, was initially reserved, but after a thorough and prudent examination of the ongoing events surrounding her, he became completely convinced of the authenticity of her mystical life. After her death, he wrote a detailed biography of her life and was responsible for gathering all her writings, including her diary, autobiography, and letters.

She was not accepted by the Passionists to become a nun because of her poor health and her visions.

Death, canonization and devotion

In early 1903, Galgani was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and went into a long and often painful decline accompanied by several mystical phenomena. One of the religious nursing sisters who attended to her stated, "We have cared for a good many sick people, but we have never seen anything like this." At the beginning of Holy Week 1903, her health quickly deteriorated, and by Good Friday she was suffering tremendously, dying in a small room across from the Giannini house on April 11, 1903, Holy Saturday. After a thorough examination of her life by the Church, she was beatified on May 14, 1933 and canonized on May 2, 1940. [9] Galgani's relics are housed at the Sanctuary of Santa Gemma associated with the Passionist monastery in Lucca, Italy. Since 1985, her heart is housed in the Santuario de Santa Gema, in Madrid, Spain. [10] Very few Catholic saints have had sainthood conferred on them this quickly.

As one of the most popular saints of the Passionist Order, Galgani knows particular devotion in Italy and Latin America. She is a patron saint of students (said to be the top of her class before having to leave school) and of pharmacists. She has also entered popular culture, being a minor, though important, character in Orlando Bartro's Toward Two Words, a comical and surreal novel.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Bell, Rudolph M.; Cristina Mazzoni (2003). The Voices of Gemma Galgani: The Life and Afterlife of a Modern Saint. Chicago, IL, US: University of Chicago Press. ISBN   978-0-226-04196-4 . Retrieved June 15, 2009.
  2. An Anthology of Christian mysticism by Harvey D. Egan 1991 ISBN   0-8146-6012-6 p. 539
  3. Atto di nascita no.325; d.d.15-3-1878, Italy, Capannori, Lucca, Civil Registration (Tribunale), 1866–1929
  4. Germanus 2000, p. 1
  5. 1 2 Mysteries, Marvels, Miracles in the Lives of Saints by Joan Carroll Cruz ISBN   978-0-89555-541-0
  6. 1 2 Bell, Rudolph M; Mazzoni, Cristina. (2003). The Voices of Gemma Galgani: The Life and Afterlife of a Modern Saint. University of Chicago Press. pp. 61-63. ISBN   0-226-04196-4
  7. Rawcliffe, Donovan. (1988). Occult and Supernatural Phenomena. Dover Publications. p. 245 ISBN   0-486-25551-4
  8. "St Gemma's reaction to unkindness -forgiveness". December 2009. Retrieved April 3, 2019.
  9. Saint Gemma, p. 46.
  10. "Devotion to St Gemma Galgani around the world". Retrieved August 13, 2018.


  • Germanus, Venerable Father (2000). The Life of St. Gemma Galgani. Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc. ISBN   978-0895556691.
  • Orsi, Robert A. "Two Aspects of One Life" in Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them. Princeton University Press, 2005, 110–45.
  • Saint Gemma Galgani. Lucca, Italy: Monastero-Santuario Saint Gemma.