The Flower of Lucca - The Virgin of
Feastday: April 11
Maria Gemma Umberta Pia Galgani (March 12, 1878 – April 11,
1903) was an Italian mystic, venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church
since 1940. She has been called the "Daughter of Passion" because of her
profound imitation of the Passion of Christ.
Maria Gemma Umberta Pia Galgani (or Gemma
Galgani as she became commonly known) was born on March 12, 1878, in the hamlet
of Borgo Nuovo in the provincial town of Capannori. Gemma was the fifth of
eight children; her father, Enrico Galgani, was a prosperous pharmacist.
Soon after Gemma's birth, the family
relocated north from Borgo Nuovo 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, and was regarded as a
highly intelligent child.
Several members of the Galgani family died
during this period. Their firstborn child, Carlo, died at an early age. On
September 17, 1885, Aurelia Galgani died from tuberculosis, which she had for
five years. Gemma's beloved brother Gino, while studying for the priesthood,
died from tuberculosis and her little sister Giulia also died at a young age.
Gemma was sent to a Catholic half-boarding
school in Lucca run by the Sisters of St. Zita. She excelled in French,
arithmetic and music. Gemma was allowed at age nine to receive her first
communion. Later she was not accepted by the Passionists to become a nun because
of her poor health and her visions. At age 20, Gemma developed spinal
meningitis, but was healed, attributing her extraordinary cure to the Sacred
Heart of Jesus through the intercession of Venerable Gabriel of Our Lady of
Sorrows (later canonized a saint), and Saint Marguerite Marie Alacoque.
Gemma was orphaned shortly after she
turned 18, making her 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.
According to a biography written by her
spiritual director, the Reverend Germanus Ruoppolo, CP (now a venerable), Gemma
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. She said that
she resisted the Devil's attacks often.
Gemma was frequently found in a state of
ecstasy. She has also been reputed to levitate. In one instance, in the dining
room of her home was a large crucifix that was highly venerated by the whole
family, particularly by Gemma. She claimed that at least once that she found
herself raised from the floor with her arms around the crucifix while kissing
the wound on the side of the crucified.
Saint Gemma was one of the recipients of
the Holy Wounds of Christ. She tells what took place when she received the Holy
Stigmata on June 8 in the year 1899, a Thursday, on the eve of the feast of the
Sacred Heart. The Saint discloses:
- 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.
Saint Gemma then experienced a rapture in which she saw her guardian angel in
the company of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Saint Gemma tells what took place next:
- 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.
Family and public
Gemma 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 Gemma during
such experiences, and during Gemma's canonization process was deemed as 'unfit'
to testify due to accusations of attempting profit from Gemma's reputation). In
light of the extraordinary events surrounding her life, some skeptics thought
that she had a mental illness.
Gemma 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, the Reverend 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.
In early 1903, Gemma was diagnosed with
tuberculosis, and thus began a long and often painful death. There were numerous
extraordinary mystical phenomena that occurred during her final illness. 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. Gemma died 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. Galgani's relics are housed at the Passionist monastery in Lucca,
She was beatified within 30 years from the
date of her death which included the mandatory five years waiting period before
the process of canonization starts. Very few in the Catholic Church have had
sainthood conferred on them this quickly.
As one of the most popular saints of the
Passionist Order, the devotion to Gemma Galgani is particularly strong both 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.
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