Saint Gemma Galgani and the Cross

Saint Gemma Galgani and the Cross

Saint Gemma Galgani

Her life - one great Miracle of the Cross!

The Lord sends down a Gem from Heaven to bless the world



In a small village not too far from the historic city of Lucca, the Lord blessed Aurelia and Enrico Galgani on March 12, 1878, with a tiny, precious little baby girl (as the priest who baptized her, exclaimed upon seeing her), una Gemma del Paradiso! (a gem from Heaven)

Gemma showed signs of sainthood from a very young age.  She was her mother’s life!  They would pray together, the little girl joyfully keeping up with her mother.  Her mother told her stories about Jesus and His Mother.  But that was tragically to come to an end.  When Gemma was only five years old, her mother became ill.  For the few pain-filled years, she had left, her mother would hold her little girl close to her, cradle her in her arms and ask the Lord why He had sent this precious girl to her so late.  Holding her close, she would tell Gemma, she wished she could take her up to Heaven with her. 

Gemma, in later years, gave full credit to her mother for the great love, she had for God through the Cross.  Her mother taught her the Faith, through the Lord Crucified, speaking of that loving God the Father Who sacrificed His only begotten Son for her, and of Jesus the Son Who willingly suffered and died for her.  Knowing suffering first hand, her mother taught Gemma the value of the Cross.  As death approached, her mother, completely bedridden, continued telling her stories about Jesus.  But when she was nearing the end, she told her little Gemma that soon, she would learn from Jesus Himself Who would speak to her from the very depths of her heart.

As she could feel the debilitating ravages of consumption draining her of life, her mother requested Gemma be allowed to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, before she died.  Although she was only seven years old, her mother’s instructions had fared her well, the Pastor agreed.  The day of her Confirmation came; she felt so close to Jesus.  After that Mass was over, she and her family stayed to give thanksgiving at the next Mass.  As she was deep in prayer, praising the Lord for the gift of this Divine Sacrament that He had given her, Gemma heard a voice interiorly ask her: “Will you give me your mother?”  She replied she would, but asked the Lord to take her, along with her mother.  The Lord asked her to give her mother to Him, unconditionally.  This was to be the first of many sacrifices that He would ask of her throughout her life, as she would join Him on the Cross. 



Gemma carries her first cross.

It was September 17, 1886, and it was time for her mother to go Home to the Lord, whom she had so faithfully brought to her daughter, the future Saint.  Her mother now with the God she had so often spoken of, Gemma knew there would no longer be anyone to tell her stories about her Jesus.  Believing with all her heart that her mother would now help her from Heaven did not heal the emptiness she felt, losing her beloved mother and holy story teller.

Her first Christmas, after her mother’s death, was a very quiet one.  She looked like a little girl who had lost all her toys, as she tried to find the joy she had shared with her mother, when, in former Christmases, they had welcomed the Baby Jesus into their hearts.  She sat at the window, looking off to the Place from where, she knew her mother was watching over her and tears began to flow.  She cried, remembering how she had breathlessly helped her mother roll the dough to make ready all the baked goods, in anticipation of the precious Baby’s birth.

When she pleaded to be allowed to receive her Lord in Holy Communion: “Give Him to me; I long for Him, and I cannot live without Him,” her confessor had no choice but to say Yes!  It was then, she said, that she received her first embrace from Jesus Crucified.  From then on, she would desire only to walk with Him, sharing in His Passion.  She later wrote,

“Do grant, oh my God, that when my lips approach Yours to kiss You, I may taste the gall that was given You; when my shoulders lean against Yours, make me feel Your scourging; when my flesh is united with Yours, in the Holy Eucharist, make me feel Your Passion; when my head comes near Yours, make me feel Your thorns; when my heart is close to Yours, make me feel Your spear...”

Gemma goes through The Error! Reference source not found.Dark Night of the Soul

Jesus had wooed little Gemma; she was ecstatic, sharing the sweetness of being loved by Him.  But all good things come to an end.  Gemma was to now know the Lord in His Passion, the Lord Who suffered in Gethsemane.  She would share the abandonment that He felt, as she went through the “Dark night of the Soul,” experiencing nothing after receiving Holy Communion.  Feeling spiritually alone, afflicted in body and soul, finding no consolation in prayers, nothing to affirm her faith, Gemma, like her Jesus before her, still knew and continued to believe she was not abandoned by God and tried even harder to please Him. 

Gemma has to say good by to her brother Gino

It was 1894 and Gemma was sixteen years old.  Once again, she had to say good-by to a loved one who would precede her to Heaven.  Her brother Gino had always shared her love for Jesus.  He was only eighteen years old.  And so little Gemma’s heart knew heartbreak once more, as her brother left her to join their mother and beloved Lord Jesus in Paradise.

Devastated by the death of her dear brother, Gemma became so ill, she was unable to rise from bed for over three months.  Her father, seeing his precious child near death, pleaded with Jesus to take him and not her.  The Lord answered his prayers and two years later, his spirit spent from the crosses he had borne, Gemma’s father went Home to his wife and son. 

The new year brings more crosses

At the end of a very difficult 1895, burdened down by heavy crosses, Gemma placed herself at the Lord’s Feet on the Cross.  The new year did not promise to be any better:

“I do not know what will happen to me this year.  I abandon myself to You, my God; all my hopes and affections shall be for You.  I am weak, oh Jesus, but I trust in Your help and I resolve to live differently, namely, closer to You.” 

The new year came and with it, crosses.  Her first cross was when, her leg became so infected, the doctor was going to amputate.  Instead, he performed an extremely painful operation.  Gemma, refusing all anesthetic, her eyes on Jesus on the Cross, cried out only once, for which she later begged forgiveness from the Lord.

That battle over, a worse attack was to ensue.  Her father, a chemist, had given much credit to the poor and to those in temporary financial straits; except temporary became forever, and they never paid!  The illnesses of his wife and son, and their subsequent deaths, had drained whatever resources he had; the authorities sold his farm and its machinery and his entire pharmacy.  When Gemma’s father was struck down by cancer of the throat and died November, 1897, his worries and pain were over; but those of Gemma and her brothers and sisters were only beginning. 

Although they were left penniless, Gemma grieved more for the loss of her father than of all they had lost materially.  The hurts were there though, and till her dying days, she recalled the creditors coming in, her father still laid out at home, taking what little they had left.  But with all of this hitting her at one time, bitterness would have been an acceptable reaction.  However, instead of vindictiveness, she prayed to that God Whom she never gave up on, the One Who never gave up on her.  Gemma faced this at all of nineteen and a half years old!

Gemma has a vision of Jesus on the Cross

On Holy Thursday, 1899, Jesus came to Gemma for the first time in a vision and told her to sacrifice herself in atonement for the sins of the world.  She had begun to meditate on her sins.  When she reflected on how deeply she had wounded Jesus by her sins, she began to cry as if her heart would break. 

As she was grieving, Jesus appeared to her, Blood spilling from His Wounds, and said, “Look at My Wounds and learn how to love.  Look at this Cross, these Wounds, these nails, these bruises and lacerations, and this Blood.  See to what extent I have loved you,  Do you want to love Me?  First, learn to suffer; suffering teaches how to love.”

Gemma receives the Error! Reference source not found.Stigmata

Because she had been healed through the intercession of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, Gemma felt this was a sign she was called to be a Nun in the Convent of the Visitation.  She was judged too fragile for convent life as a result of a debilitating illness.  No amount of tears and begging would dissuade the Mother Superior or the Archbishop who had given the order she not be accepted. 

Several days after she had been rejected, Jesus spoke to Gemma: “I am waiting for you on Calvary.”  On June 8th, two weeks after her rejection, she had an inner thought: She was about to receive some very special grace!  She went to her confessor to shed herself of any sins she might have, so that the Lord would have a spotless soul, ready to receive whatever blessing, He willed to give her. 

When Thursday came, Gemma began to think of all the sufferings, Jesus had endured for her.  She became filled with such overwhelming remorse, she became rapt in ecstasy!  The Blessed Mother appeared, accompanied by Gemma’s Guardian Angel, and told her that Jesus had forgiven her sins.  Then Mother Mary opened her mantle and placed it over her.  Jesus appeared and showed her His Wounds which were no longer bleeding.  Instead flames of fire leapt forth from them and pierced Gemma’s hands, feet and heart.  She was in such excruciating pain, she thought she would collapse and die, were it not for Mother Mary supporting her and covering her with her mantle.  After she remained like this for hours, Mother Mary kissed her forehead and the vision vanished.  Gemma had received the Stigmata, and now bore the five Wounds of Jesus!  She was in such agony, she needed the aid of her Guardian Angel to help her into bed.  The next day, she carefully bound and hid her bleeding hands and went to Mass.

From that time on, Gemma would receive the Stigmata, the five Wounds of Jesus, each week on Thursday evening, beginning at 8 P.M.  They would continue bleeding until 3 P.M. Friday; then completely disappear that evening or early Saturday; by Sunday, freshly healed flesh would cover the wounds; the Stigmata was gone.  The only visible signs left were white spots where the five open Wounds had been.  The following Thursday the bleeding  would begin again.

The last three years of her life, the ecstasies stopped.  Her Spiritual Director forbid her to have them because of her weakened condition.  Always working through the Saints’ obedience to their Superiors, the Lord no longer shared His Five Wounds with Gemma.

Gemma Error! Reference source not found.levitates to embrace Jesus on the Cross

The Gianninis, a wealthy, very pious family in Lucca, having heard of Gemma’s holiness, begged her brother and his wife to allow them to adopt Gemma. And so Gemma was adopted as a daughter of their family in September, 1900.  There was an atmosphere of sanctity in this otherwise affluent home. 

Setting the table in the dining room was one of her favorite tasks, as a huge Crucifix hung on the wall.  Although venerated by the whole family, it was most especially adored by Gemma who would pause in front of it during the day and keep her Lord company with consoling words of love.  Many times, she so desired to kiss the Wound on His Side, she would find herself rising into mid-air up to Christ on the Cross, embracing Him and kissing the Wound on His precious Side.

One day, as she was placing the tablecloth on the dining room table, her heart beating wildly, she cried out to the Lord, “Let me get to You.  I am thirsting for Your Blood.”  The Image of Christ on the Cross came to life; Jesus held out one of His Arms from the Cross and beckoned Gemma to come to Him.  She levitated up to Him; Jesus held her in His Arms and Gemma drank from the Holy Spring in His Side, staying aloft as if resting on a cloud.  All this became known to the Church through a member of the Giannini household, Aunt Cecilia, her adopted mother.  Gemma was under obedience to tell all her experiences to her; if not for that, all that came to pass would have remained a buried treasure inside Gemma’s heart.

Jesus reveals God’s imminent punishment on mankind

Father Germano saw in Gemma a holy soul who, like a child without guile, simply loved God and saw Him in all the circumstances surrounding her life, recognizing Him most in her suffering.  Discerning her to be holy and pure, Father Germano believed her ecstasies were authentic and accepted her wounds as the Stigmata, a gift from the Lord of His five Wounds.  Father spent the rest of his life being her Spiritual Director.  But that did not mean Gemma’s life would be without strife and dissension, the devil doing all he could do to cause problems.  At times, Gemma even doubted Father Germano and all those who had been the first to believe in her. 

Gemma’s life was one of: rejection - God’s gifts to her were often doubted and she, mistrusted; hurts - ill-will, spite and jealousy in the hearts of those around her; abandonment - feeling most sharply the absence of a family, she grieved because she judged she was a burden on those around her. 

Gemma told a tender soul who was undergoing grave trials:

“ interior voice seems to tell me we must remain at the foot of the Cross.  If Jesus is nailed upon the Cross, we must not complain if we have to stay at its feet.” 

Gemma told this poor soul, we must all walk with Jesus on the way to Calvary, to the Cross and His death; or was she speaking with the Heart of Jesus asking that soul and us, do we run away from Our Lord at the Pillar, not wanting to be wounded by and for the sins of others?  Are we silent when we are mocked and humiliated, as Our Lord was when they put a Crown of Thorns on His precious Head?  Do we deny Him when the going gets rough, like Peter?  Do we choose the world’s answers to our problems, as they did when Pilate asked “Which one do you want me to release to you, Barabbas or Jesus Who is called Messiah?”  Are we willing to stand beside His Mother and die, as she did, with Him, for His beloved Church, this Church which flowed from His pierced Heart on the Cross? 

During Midnight Mass, at the time of the Offertory, as the priest was offering the gifts to the Father, Jesus appeared and offered Gemma as a victim to the Eternal Father.  The Lord was radiant as He embraced Gemma and then presented her to her Mama, His Mother Mary, as “the fruit of His Passion.”


The long painful journey Home

She was coming to the end of her journey to the Cross.  Gemma’s physical suffering was extremely painful.  But the physical could not compare with the spiritual attacks to which this sweet soul was subjected, at the hands of the devil.  He taunted her with: She had led a useless life; all her suffering was for nothing; God had abandoned her because she had fooled people into thinking her pious; her gifts of the Stigmata and ecstasies were not of God and the devil used her to deceive everyone into believing they were divinely inspired;  God was angry because she was a hypocrite, her humility and purity were false, and she was in truth a big sinner.

The devil had her so convinced of her sinfulness that she wrote the story of her life, accusing herself of being sinful and deceitful.  Seeking absolution for the dreadful sins the devil had deluded her into believing she had committed, she gave her story to her confessor, who read her story and assured her of her piety, charity and holiness.  When she wrote, the devil smeared the pages with black hoof-prints of black ink and carbon from the fires of hell.  These marks can still be seen on her writings.

Gemma communicates with her Guardian Angel

In a vision, her Guardian Angel had appeared to Gemma and showed her two crowns, one of lilies and one of thorns.  When the Angel offered them to her, inviting her to take one of them, Gemma responded, she wanted the crown that belonged to her Lord Jesus.  The Angel handed her the crown of thorns!  Gemma embraced the crown and kissed it.  Then pressing it to her heart, she said, “Be always praised my God!  Long live Jesus!  Long live Jesus’ gifts!  Long live Jesus’ Cross!” 

Well, here it was, the end of Gemma’s life, and she was wearing the crown of thorns she had chosen and would wear to the Cross.  As with other Mystics who had the Stigmata, she had desired to share Jesus’ Passion.  Jesus allowed her to carry His Cross, bear His humiliation, loneliness, anguish, abandonment, yes, and even the taunts and temptations from the devil.  Now, she would know the full meaning of her Yes to the Lord.  Her final hours strongly paralleled those of her Savior.  Gemma was walking the way of the Passion that her Lord before her had tread. 

When the pain and the bombardment got heavy, the Lord came to her, accompanied by her Guardian Angel.  He tried to reassure her and encourage her to persevere in fighting the temptations of the devil.  But as soon as He left, the battles began to rage again; the enemy was back, more vicious than ever.  As her Lord Jesus had cried out to the Father on the Cross, “Why have You forsaken Me?” now Gemma cried out, “Jesus where are You?  You know my heart; where are You?”

Gemma could be heard crying out in ecstasy, “Make haste, Jesus.  Cut off the chain that binds me to earth, separating me from Heaven.  Let me come to You.”

Gemma had asked Jesus to allow her to die on a Solemn Feast Day.  Gemma had suffered the 40 days of Lent, and now it was Holy Week.  Gemma would be given the final gift from Jesus: she would share fully in His Passion, agonizing with the suffering Spotless Lamb.  On Holy (Spy) Wednesday, Gemma received Holy Viaticum with joy and thanksgiving.  Prior to that, because of her constant vomiting, even the Lord in His Eucharist had been withheld from her.  Since March 23rd, she felt as if she was alone in a desert, her lips and heart parched as she thirsted for the Living God.  She had suffered the loss of her most precious consolation on earth, Holy Communion, and she was inconsolable. 

When at last she received her Lord, Gemma fell into a deep ecstasy, and when she came out of it, she told the nurse, “Oh, if only you could see the smallest part of that which Jesus has revealed to me, you would die of ecstasy.”

On Holy Thursday, she again requested Holy Communion.  Soon after receiving, she fell into ecstasy and was overheard saying, she saw a crown of thorns, and she had more to suffer. 

On Good Friday, the last one she would share with Jesus on earth, Gemma turned to her Aunt Cecilia and asked her not to leave her until she was nailed to the Cross.  She said: “I must be crucified with Jesus.  Jesus told me, His children must be crucified with Him.”  Everyone wept at Gemma’s bedside as they witnessed that final dying on the Cross. 

The morning of Holy Saturday the priest came to anoint her.  Gemma, like her Savior before her, summoned her last ounce of breath, just enough to pray with the priest.  She had asked to die without any comfort, as her Savior before her, and the Lord complied.  When the devil launched his last attack, taunting her that she had been abandoned by the Lord she so loved, she replied, “A Crucifix and a priest are all I need.”

At half past one, Holy Saturday, April 11, 1903, Gemma died, her Crucifix in her hand, exclaiming, “Jesus, if it is Your Will, take me.”  She kissed the Crucifix, placed it on her breast and closed her eyes.

On the triumphant anniversary of Christ’s Ascension into Heaven, May 2, 1940, Gemma Galgani was hailed for the first time: “Saint Gemma.”  In the midst of war and hatred, of death and cruelty, of man’s inhumanity to man, a light shone in the darkness and love was crowned.  You can read more about Saint Gemma in their books: Visionaries, Mystics, and Stigmatists and Heavenly Army of Angels

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