Gemma Galgani

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Gemma Galgani
Galg gem.jpg
The Virgin of Lucca
BornMaria Gemma Umberta Galgani
(1878-03-12)12 March 1878
Camigliano, Capannori, Italy
Died11 April 1903(1903-04-11) (aged 25)
Lucca, Italy
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
Beatified 14 May 1933 by Pope Pius XI
Canonized 2 May 1940, Saint Peter's Basilica, Vatican City by Pope Pius XII
Major shrine Passionist Monastery in Lucca, Italy
Feast 11 April (celebrated by Passionists on 16 May)
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 (12 March 1878 – 11 April 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).


Early life

Gemma Umberta Maria Galgani was born on 12 March 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]

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.

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 17 September 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.[ citation needed ]


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]

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 8 June 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 8 June 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 phenomenon 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 in a book published nearly 50 years after her death 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

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).[ citation needed ]

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 11 April 1903, Holy Saturday. After a thorough examination of her life by the Church, she was beatified on 14 May 1933 and canonized on 2 May 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] Gemma Galgani's confessor Germano Ruoppolo, who significantly influenced her, wrote a book about her. [11]

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 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 15 June 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 3 April 2019.
  9. Saint Gemma, p. 46.
  10. "Devotion to St Gemma Galgani around the world". Retrieved 13 August 2018.
  11. Germanus, Venerable Father (2000). The Life of St. Gemma Galgani. Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc. ISBN   978-0895556691.


  • Rudoph M. Bell; 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.
  • Robert A. Orsi (2005): "Two Aspects of One Life" in Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them. Princeton University Press, p. 110–145.
  • Hervé Roullet (2019). Gemma Galgani. Paris, France: Roullet Hervé. ISBN   978-2956313731.