If I saw the gates of Hell open and I stood on the brink of the abyss, I should not despair, I should not lose hope of mercy, because I should trust in You, my God.

-Gemma Galgani

Gemma Galgani was born March 12, 1878 in Tuscany to an apothecary and his wife. She was their fifth child, and the first girl to be born into the family. Her mother died when she was seven years old. Following her mother's death, Gemma was sent by her father to a Catholic boarding school run by the sisters of St. Zita. She excelled in her schoolwork, and grew into a very pious young woman.

When she was eighteen years old, her father died. He had been an excessively generous man, and as a result of his generosity (and some unscrupulous business contacts who took advantage of it) his children were left with almost nothing. Gemma took responsibility for her younger siblings in spite of her increasingly bad health. Meningitis left her with paralysis and a temporary loss of hearing. At one point, a large abscess formed on her head, and all her hair fell out.

Through it all her faith remained unshaken. The devil visited her often, tempting her to do such things as spitting on the cross or breaking a chain of rosary beads. She resisted with the help of her Guardian Angel, who was with her almost constantly.

As she became more and more ill, and all attempted remedies failed, Gemma began a devotion to Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, whose life story she had been reading on her sickbed. She began a novena to him, during which he appeared nightly at her bedside to pray with her. At the end of the novena, she was miraculously cured.

Now in perfect health, she began to pursue her dream of becoming a Passionist nun, but the order refused her because of her poverty and because of her previous physical infirmities. Shortly after the convent rejected her, she began to manifest stigmata on her hands and feet every Thursday evening through Friday afternoon. She described the first incidence of stigmata in a letter:

At that moment Jesus appeared with all his wounds open, but from these wounds there no longer came forth blood, but flames of fire. In an instant these flames came to touch my hands, my feet, and my heart. I felt as if I were dying, and should have fallen to the ground had not my mother held me up, while all the time I remained beneath her mantle. I had to remain several hours in that position. Finally she kissed my forehead, all vanished, and I found myself kneeling. But still felt great pain in my hands, feet, and heart. I rose to go to bed, and became aware that blood was flowing from those parts where I felt pain. I covered them as well as I could, and then helped by my angel, I was able to go to bed.

Gemma had been taken in at the age of twenty-one by a generous family, the Gianninis. They had eleven children, and welcomed her help around the house. While living with the Gianninis, Gemma attended Mass twice a day and continued to see and converse with her Guardian Angel almost daily.

In 1902, Gemma, who had enjoyed good health since her miraculous cure, was inspired to offer herself to God as a victim for the salvation of souls. Jesus accepted her offer, and once more she fell dangerously ill. As she became weaker and weaker, Satan began tempting her with renewed vigor. He strove to persuade her that she had been abandoned by God. Gemma's faith, however, remained strong until the end of her life.

She died on Holy Saturday, April 11, 1903. She was twenty-five. In her last words she said:

I seek for nothing more; I have made the sacrifice of everything and of everyone to God; now I prepare to die. Now it is indeed true that nothing more remains to me, Jesus. I commend my poor soul to Thee.

Twenty years after her death, her body was transferred to a shrine at the Passionist Convent in Lucca, Italy. She was beatified in 1933 by Pope Pius XI and canonized in 1940 by Pius XII

The inscription on the marble tablet that covers her remains reads:

Gemma Galgani from Lucca, most pure virgin, being in her twenty-fifth year, died of consumption, but was more consumed by the fire of divine love than by her wasting disease. On the eleventh of April, 1903, the vigil of Easter, her soul took its flight to the bosom of her heavenly Spouse. O beautiful soul, in the company of the Angels!

Gemma is the patron saint of apothecaries, pharmacists, loss of parents, and temptations. Her feast day is April 11.


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