Personal character traits of St Gemma

Just as each person is unique, irrepeatable and irreplaceable, it follows that each Saint is unique in their own personalities, characteristics and especially in their spirituality.


St Gemma's personality

Gemma normally spoke very little, unless engaged in spiritual conversation, and usually kept her eyes cast downwards. She shied away from worldly conversation as much as possible. She preferred the most humblest of household tasks, especially mending the clothes of the large Giannini family (the family who took her in) and caring for the family members and servants when they were sick. She also frequently took care of the younger Giannini children in all their daily needs. She was always docile and obedient to others. Her free time was primarily spent in quiet prayer and reflection. In her writings we find that in her prayer life she frequently meditated on the Passion of Jesus, and all the pain that He suffered in reparation for sin. She often wrote about how much Jesus suffered for our sins, and with the Passion of Jesus always in mind, she often expressed her great sorrow and repentance for her own sins. (see for example the quote at the bottom of this page -editor) . For this reason she is called the "Passion Flower".

She made a Holy Hour in honor of the Passion of Jesus, every Thursday night from 11pm to midnight (*see note at bottom). She preferred conversing with God throughout the day in natural conversation, that is informal prayer, rather than in formal, vocal prayers, however she usually did take part in the nightly family rosary, said in the Giannini home. Even while occupied in daily tasks, she normally kept herself "in the presence of God", as she humbly states in her diary. When possible, she would endeavor to do some spiritual reading. She read and re-read with much interest and fervor the Life of Brother Gabriel Possenti C.P. , of he whom later appeared to her in several visions and whom interceded and obtained a miraculous cure on her behalf. The most important thing to Saint Gemma was her daily meeting with Jesus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Recieving Jesus in Holy Communion was the source and summit of her daily spiritual life.

Simplicity of dress
Regarding Gemma's simplicity of dress, Bishop Proserpio writes in his book "St Gemma Galgani" -"The simplicity of her dress was well known. Lucca [Italy] shall always remember Gemma's "mantellette", under which she invariably kept her hands when going out of the house, oftentimes to hide the stigmata. Her hat (black colored straw hat -editor) ...had become an object of numerous comments from other maidens of the town. Mr. Matteo, the patriarch of the Giannini family, confessed that he was, at times, ashamed to go out of the house in Gemma's company, because as he put it "she was so ridiculously dressed". And yet, Gemma was noted for the simplicity of her dress and comportment. She was not really ridiculous in her way of dressing, but she did not want to wear the fashionable clothes of the girls of her age. Whenever such clothes were presented to her, she would find a way of exchanging them for older ones, or she passed them onto the poor."

In the introduction to His book on St Gemma, Bishop Proserpio writes "Looking back thirty years into the past, Pope Pius XI, after reading the official Decree proclaiming the heroic virtue of the Maid of Lucca, said in an allocution to the Cardinals [He had known her only by sight] 'I can see her once more before me, dressed in black, wearing her mantellette, not very tall, light of step, almost silent, with a transfigured face, with sweet and soft large eyes made to see immortal things. Comparing her figure which I keep alive and present in my mind, with her portrait, I find my recollection to be true. That face, luminous and peaceful, remains and will remain in my mind and heart as the face of a saint. Who would have thought at the time, when a heated controversy was waging around this girl, -and people alternately sided for and against her- even though her virtue was ever held in high esteem -who would have thought of today's triumph and of the great things Divine Providence reserves for tomorrow?' (here Pope Pius XI was prophetically referring to her canonisation 8 years later.)

Gemma wore this simple black "mantellette" whenever she went out of the house. Once she was invited to a relatives wedding, and the Bride to be, upon seeing Gemma in her simple black straw hat and mantellette said loudly for all to hear "What is the matter with her? What is she doing here dressed like that?"



In his "Life of St Gemma", Father Germanus states "Her dress was most simple. It consisted of a black woolen material, and a black straw hat....In vain her friends protested. This was the only way he dressed, winter or summer".

Her brother Guido’s wedding
“One day she surprised her aunt by asking her to come with her to the milliner's shop to have a hat made. When they arrived there, Gemma described in word and gesture what she wanted - a hat of black straw with a wide flexible brim to come down around her face. The milliner pointed out that such a hat was not in style, that it was not becoming to a girl like her. "She meant," says her aunt proudly, "a girl as beautiful as Gemma." Gemma was not so foolish as to be unaware of the fact, for she had planned the hat to avoid the admiring looks she often en­countered in public. And so she answered with emphasis: 'Please make it exactly as I have described it because I want it that way.' This was the finishing touch to the famous costume which made the rising young lawyer, Joseph Giannini remark: ‘I would not be seen outside with her.’
[Joseph was one of the Giannini family children around the same age as Gemma with whom Gemma lived] he further states:
“Summer and winter she wore a black woolen dress reach­ing to the ground, a black mantle of the same stuff that came to the waist and - the unstylish hat.”

In this outfit she went to her brother's wed­ding. This brother, Guido, left home in 1897 and, after his term in the army, became, like his father, a pharmacist, and now lived in a town near Pisa. Gemma had never seen her future sister-in-law and, evidently, Guido had forgotten to tell his bride what to expect. Consequently, when she saw Gemma in her ridiculous costume, she was furious; she told her to go away and never come back. The meek and placid Gemma returned home, not resentful nor even apologetic, for there is no reference to the incident in the affectionate letter of felicitation she wrote shortly after:

‘Dearest Assuntina: It was a great pleasure for me to see your wedding day come at last and I write to tell you a thousand times: May you both be happy. It is not duty that moves me to say this but rather a pleasure which delights me in doing so. I will say it again now and always:
‘May you both be happy. This expression of my most ardent desire I will offer to God for you each evening, for you should know that I have nothing more at heart than your happiness and this will always remain fixed in my thoughts.’
‘I ought to have written sooner but I am sure that you will excuse my negligence. In the name of my aunts, then, I wish you great happiness; all of us will pray to Jesus that He may pre­serve you for long years in the affections of Guido and for the greater good of the family . . . Before ending I want to tell you something. From the moment of your marriage I have had this thought constantly; Papa was so pleased that you two were to be married. If only he had been there! Then afterwards I realized that all my adversities have made me resigned to the Will of God.
"Good-bye to both of you; live joyfully and happily. Believe me to be always, as I now sign myself with all my heart,
Your sister and sister-in-law,
Gemma."

Her brother Guido and his wife later visited Gemma, and Gemma having the stigmata, was obliged to wear gloves even at table, where she was subjected to some good-natured banter from her unsuspecting brother: "How stylish, eating with gloves on!" His wife seems to have taken for granted that Gemma was protecting a bad case of chapped hands and, after dinner, drew her aside and said: "I have some rose water and I will bathe your hands." And not waiting for Gemma's consent, she stripped off the gloves, and recognising the wounds ran weeping to Aunt Elisa: "Oh Aunt, why didn't you tell me! Gemma has wounds on her hands just like Our Lord's!"

Perhaps the young bride finally got around to the reading of the little book which Gemma brought to her as a present on her wedding day: “The Introduction to a Devout Life” by St. Francis de Sales. If so, Assunta then realized that one with nails through the palms can neither grasp nor hold anything else on this earth. Gemma had sold all to gain a Pearl of great price, a Treasure of infinite worth. And Jesus kept her strictly to the bargain.

Gemma, all but indifferent to her appearance, would hurriedly get dressed in the morning, quickly affixing her hair in a zig-zag part, her thoughts focused only on her meeting with Jesus in Holy Communion at the Mass. Within five or so minutes from arising, she would be found standing quietly at the door, waiting for Signora Cecilia, that they might go to Church together. Father Germanus writes "In the morning, at the break of day, already beside herself, she jumped out of bed, dressed in a few minutes and was ready to go to Church....I was moved to tears, at seeing Gemma with her hat on, absorbed in thought, waiting at the door of her companions room. 'And where are you going, my child'? I said to her. 'To Jesus, Father.' 'And for what?' Then with a modest smile she answered 'You know.'


"To see her", her companion [Cecilia] writes, "she seemed each morning as if she were getting herself ready for her nuptials, or as she herself put it '-to go to the feast of the love of Jesus".

In her Autobiography she writes: “I recall very well one time I was given a gold watch and chain. Ambitious as I was, I could hardly wait to put it on and go out (an indication, dear Father that my imagination was working on me). I did in fact go out with it on and when I returned home and started to take it off I saw an angel (whom I recognized immediately as my Guardian Angel) who said to me very seriously; “Remember that the precious jewelry that adorns the spouse of the Crucified King can only be thorns and the cross.” I did not even tell my confessor about this. In fact, I tell it now for the first time. These words made me fear, as did the angel himself. But a little later, while reflecting on them without understanding them at all, I made this resolution: I resolve for the love of Jesus, and to please Him, never to wear the watch again, and not even to speak of things that savor of vanity. At the time I also had a ring on my finger. I took it off immediately and from then until now I have not worn such things."

Sandrina Maggi (an acquaintance of Gemma) tells this anecdote "One evening I was walking with Gemma along the Via del Vado when we met a old Lady who was shivering from the cold, due to a lack of proper clothing. Gemma had just received from one of her Aunts a heavy woolen undergarment. Quietly she withdrew behind a door, removed the undergarment and gave it to the lady saying 'Pray for me that Jesus may warm me with the fire of His love' ".

Other characteristics of St Gemma

Another notable characteristic of St Gemma was her strong reaction to blasphemy. Here again Bishop Proserpio writes "One of her brothers occasionally broke into blasphemies. For a soul penetrated with the profoundest reverence for the Holy Name, the mere thought of such a thing was unbearable.

Once, during one of the little disputes that arise now and again in a home, especially when tried by misfortune, her brother broke into an unrestrained outburst of the most indecent language against God and all the Saints. His profanity produced such a sense of horror in Gemma that her whole body began to sweat blood, which even trickled to the ground. She did her best to hide herself, but her Aunt got so enraged on seeing the blood streaming from Gemma that she rushed at her, and seizing her by the throat exclaimed 'It is time to end this trickery. You have given enough occasions for people to talk. If you do not tell me where this blood comes from, you shall never go out of the house again.'

Gemma, who with selfless love always endeavored to cover up the faults of others, began to cry and replied 'It is because of the blasphemies of my brother'. 'And the blasphemies caused the blood' her aunt asked. 'Yes, I saw Jesus suffering so much when blasphemed, that I suffered with Him, and my heart poured out blood'. Aunt Elisa calmed a little and said 'Is it only your brothers blasphemies that cause this blood, or those of other people too?' 'I suffer always' replied Gemma, 'but when it is he that blasphemes, I suffer much more'.

Along with sweating blood, Venerable Father Germanus documents in his book "The Life of St Gemma Galgani" that on at least one occasion, Gemma immediately fainted upon hearing someone curse the name of God.

In his book "St Gemma Galgani" the Bishop of Calcutta, Rev Dr. Leo Proserpio S.J. writes "One cannot help being lost in admiration at the ways of the Saints. If we cannot tread the same heights, let us at least humble ourselves."

Gemma was also very cautious in her manner of speaking, especially in speaking of others. Her spiritual director, Father Germanus states- "She would never speak ill of anyone."

"You would need a wrench" said a witness "to draw a word from her regarding others, even when the information was necessary or useful, if that word had to be one unfavorable to them."

The information in this article is from the books "St Gemma Galgani" , by Right Rev Dr. Leo Proserpio S.J., Bishop of Calcutta, and also "The Life of St Gemma Galgani" by Venerable Father Germanus C.P.

(*Until her death, Gemma made a Holy Hour every Thursday night from 11pm to midnight in honor of the Passion of our Lord. She used the Holy Hour written by Blessed Helen Guerra, Foundress of the Sisters of St Zita, who were the Sisters that educated St Gemma earlier in her life. Gemma once wrote "Every Thursday [night] I continued to make the Holy Hour, but it sometimes happened that it would last even until 2:00AM, because Jesus was with me; and nearly always He would make me share in that sorrow which He felt in the Garden at the sight of so many of my sins, and those of the whole world -a sorrow which can well be compared to the agony of death. After all this I would experience so sweet a calm and consolation that I had to give vent to it in tears. And these tears made me taste an incomprehensible love, and increased in me the desire to love Jesus, and to suffer for Him." -St Gemma Galgani)

The Holy hour as practised by St Gemma can be read here:

http://www.stgemmagalgani.com/2009/01/holy-hour-practised-by-st-gemma-galgani.html



“Oh, when I see Jesus in tears it pierces my heart. I realize that I, by my sins, have increased the suffering which overwhelmed Him while He prayed in the garden. At that moment, Jesus saw all my sins, all my failings, and He saw also that place I should have occupied in hell, if Thy Heart, oh Jesus, had not pardoned me” ~St Gemma Galgani

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wish to thank Michael Brown for this link to St. Gemma. Now that I know of her, I will try to remember to ask for her intercession to God for my needs, and they are mostly for detachment to material things. Thank you. Peg in Denver, CO USA

Lynne said...

Beautiful !! How is her name pronounced? Thank you - Lynne in Lakewood, CO

Glenn Dallaire said...

Hello Anonymous,
I too am very thankful to Mr Brown of Spirit Daily for highlighting the website, that many people may come to know of all the glorious things that God has wrought through His servant, St Gemma.

Blessed be God in His Angels and in His saints!

Glenn Dallaire said...

Hi Lynne,
Her name is pronounced "gem" as in a precious gem (gemstone).

May God bless you and yours,
Glenn

xavier said...

hi i was wondering if anyone knew what st. gemma's symbol was. LIke how st. mathew has a coin purswe and such if you do know please email me at thisisforschool1313@gmail.com (not my personal account) if you can thank you! also will you provide me with a source :)

Glenn Dallaire said...

Hi Xavier,
Unfortunately I don't know of any specific symbol for St Gemma. I will say that she is often pictured in holy cards and medals holding lilies (because of her angelic purity, and her emphasis on purity during her lifetime) and she is often referred to as the "Lily of Lucca"---in fact, there are a couple of different books written about her under this title.

I hope this helps. Best wishes and may God bless you and your loved ones.
~St Gemma, pray for us!
Glenn Dallaire

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