Of angelic purity and enormous devotion to Our Lady, this young woman mystically participated in practically all acts of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Saint Gemma Galgani died at the beginning of the twentieth century at the age of 25. She was favored by all sorts of charisms, such as experiencing the stigmata of the Passion, the crown of thorns, the scourging and the sweat of blood. She had frequent ecstasies, a spirit of prophecy and discernment of spirits. The saint also had visions of Our Lord, His Blessed Mother, Saint Gabriel, the Sorrowful Virgin and an incredible familiarity with her guardian angel.
The devil constantly attacked her, appearing in human or animal form. Finally, she had a mystical marriage with Our Lord Jesus Christ and died as an expiatory victim for the world’s sins.
“Gemma’s whole life was, in short, a life of union with God, suffering with Jesus Christ and ardent zeal for the salvation of souls. While at work or studying, at the table or in conversation, whether walking or sleeping, her mind was always focused on God.”
Holiness Despite Everything and Everyone
Gemma was born in the village of Camigliano, near Lucca in Tuscany, Italy, on March 12, 1878, the daughter of Enrico Galgani, the village pharmacist, and Aurelia Landi. Both were God-fearing, and Aurelia was unusually pious. Gemma was the first girl and the fourth of the couple’s eight children.
Seeing her daughter’s unique character, Aurelia decided to take a more personal role in bringing her up in piety. The girl lived up to her expectations.
One day, when she was only four, she knelt before a picture of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in her paternal grandmother’s house. She was absorbed in prayer with her little hands folded. Her grandmother, passing through the room, was enchanted by the spectacle and called her son to witness the scene. After carefully observing the girl in prayer, the latter thought nothing better than to interrupt Gemma:
“Gemma, what are you doing?” he asked.
As if coming out of ecstasy, the girl looked at him and answered with utmost seriousness:
“I’m praying the Hail Mary. Get out, I am in prayer.”
Gemma wanted to be a saint from her earliest years and said so. Growing up, she wrote: “Despite everything and everyone, I will be a saint.” This expression shows that she had already suffered setbacks and was determined to overcome others.
Our Lord ratified that wish, saying to her: “In a few years, you will be a saint by My doing. You will work miracles and be raised to the honor of the altars.”
Lacking All Material Goods
Gemma lost her mother at age seven. Like other saints, she asked the Blessed Virgin to replace her. From then on, her devotion to the Mother of God became more tender. She always invoked her with the affectionate nickname “Mamma.”
Her lively intelligence and sharp memory made Gemma very successful in her studies, and she was usually the first in her class. Given her success, her father wanted her to go to the university when she finished school at 16. However, Gemma aspired to give herself entirely to Our Lord by joining some religious congregation.
At that time, Gemma’s father, who had spent much on his wife’s prolonged illness, could no longer balance his finances and went bankrupt, losing all his assets. The family fell into the darkest misery. The good man could not bear the blow and died shortly afterward. In her Autobiography, Gemma says: “When Papa died, we found ourselves with nothing and absolutely no means to make a living.”
The family broke up, with each sibling going to a relative’s home. Gemma went to her uncle’s house in Camayor, where some suitors for her hand showed up. Dismayed by such attention, she decided to return home despite the misery.
Saint Gemma suffered a great deal not only morally but also physically. She underwent two surgeries without anesthetics.
During the last years of her life, the virtuous Giannini family received her into their home. The family considered Gemma as a daughter and venerated her as a saint, concealing the heavenly favors she was endowed with from the eyes of the world. Many of her ecstasies and other heavenly favors were recorded thanks to Cecilia, a sister of the house owner.
When Gemma felt the need for a spiritual director, Our Lord Himself showed him to her in a vision. He was Father Germano of Saint Stanislas, a virtuous and prudent priest who guided Gemma’s last years, which were the most lavish in supernatural favors. He published the saint’s biography and Autobiography only four years after her death. Both greatly helped her beatification process.
Saint Gemma and her Guardian Angel
Gemma constantly saw her guardian angel, who guided and reprimanded her when needed. She confided to her director: “Jesus does not allow me to be alone for a moment but makes sure that my guardian angel is always in my company.” The latter told her: “I will be your sure guide and inseparable companion.” In her innocence, she thought that everyone could see their guardian angels, especially innocent little children. Only gradually did she realize that this was not the case.
Sometimes, she saw her angel adoring the sovereign Majesty; at other times, he stretched out his hands over her as a token of protection, defending her against the devil’s attacks. He knelt beside her, suggesting points for meditation or sat by her side, giving her good advice.
Our Lord wanted her to be completely detached from all things. When she went to the archiepiscopal palace to receive a gold medal she earned in the catechetical course, her aunt tried to dress her better. Gemma agreed to wear around her neck a little chain with a cross and a gold watch, a souvenir of her mother. When she returned home and was about to change her clothes, she saw the guardian angel beside her, looking at her sternly:
“Remember that the wife of a crucified King should be adorned with no other jewels than His thorns and cross.”
Gemma threw those ornaments away and prostrating herself on the ground in tears, she made this resolution: “For the love of Jesus and to please Him alone, I resolve never to carry objects of vanity, nor even to speak about them.” In her Autobiography, she says: “I have never again possessed any of these things ever since that day.” This resolution showed her total fidelity to the path God had called her.
Familiarity with her Guardian Angel
Another day, she writes in her diary: “My guardian angel, who scolds me very severely, said: ‘My daughter, remember that you sin every time you fail to obey. Why are you so remiss in obeying your confessor? Remember that there is no shorter and surer way to heaven than that of obedience.’” The confessor had ordered her to write down the spiritual graces she received, but she was very hesitant and scrupulous in her humility.
Thus, Gemma’s guardian angel strictly reprimanded her for even slight negligence in the divine service. He would disappear for a while, give her a stern look, refuse to speak to her or even harshly admonish her. He would sometimes even impose some punishment.
He also told her what she should do for spiritual progress. For example, the saint reports: “He sat next to me and said: ‘Why do you give Jesus this grief for not meditating on His Passion every day?’” She recognized that was true and remembered she meditated on the Passion only on Thursdays and Fridays.
“You must do it daily, don’t forget,” he said. He also encouraged her on the path of virtue: “It is through your virginity’s exalted perfection that Jesus gives you so many graces.” Indeed, she had angelic purity. In the various surgeries that she had to undergo, her modesty was such that it caught the doctors’ attention. While some considered her a saint, the wicked considered her a “fanatic.”
Gemma never went out alone. When she had no one from her family to go out with her, her guardian angel offered to be her visible companion. She was so familiar with him that she even asked him to take a letter to her spiritual director and bring the one he had for her.
Devotion to the Mediatrix of all Graces
As mentioned before, her devotion to Our Lady was tender and filial. The Mother of God appeared to her on Saturdays, usually portrayed as the Sorrowful Mother, and recounted some detail of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. At other times, she would appear with the Child Jesus, handing Him over for her to caress.
Gemma would find herself mired in what she considered the “abyss of her sins.” She did not feel like going directly to Our Lord on these occasions. Thus, she turned to the Mediatrix of all graces and said: “My Mother, I am afraid to go to Jesus without you because, although you are merciful, I know that I have committed many sins, and I also know that Jesus is just in His punishment. I am asking a great thing of you, am I not, my Mother? But what can I do if I can only find through your mediation what I have lost through my sins? Moreover, what I ask of you is little compared to the great things you can do for me.”
Gemma died on Holy Saturday, April 11, 1903, and was canonized by Pius XII on May 2, 1940.
Source: Fr. Basilio de San Paolo, Santa Gemma Galgani, Editorial Litúrgica Española, S.A., Barcelona, 1948. All the quotations in this article are from this work, including those taken from the works of Saint Gemma Galgani.