“La Povera Gemma” Padre Enrico Zoffoli C.P.
Chap. III “OBEDIENT UNTO DEATH"
"Pilatus autem volens populo satisfacere, dimisis illis Barabbas, et tradidit Jesum flagellis caesum ut crugificeretur".
“So Pilate, anxious to placate the crowd, released Barabbas for them and, having ordered Jesus to be scourged, handed him over to be crucified.”
With a sense of indefinable veneration and astonishment we find now “the poor Gemma" in one of those stages [of the spiritual life, translator] in which that mysterious violence of 'love' so wounded her spirit to the point of causing the outpouring of blood from her body. We believe that our objective serenity with which we should proceed [in our study] is fully reconcilable with the emotions we feel as we begin to examine the complexity of phenomena and mystic experiences of undisputed supernatural origin.
Even in the most negative hypothesis [of judgment], we would be unable to put in dispute the celebrated sanctity of Miss Galgani. Therefore we start from the premise that any doubt in regard to her moral figure would be completely unfounded and even
Moreover, we believe that in the first part of this work we have adequately demonstrated the superior psychological equilibrium of the saint which totally excludes the hypothesis of autosuggestion, suggested by some as the principal cause of the phenomena of participation to the cruel sufferings of the Savior. Therefore, if these facts are undeniable from her history, what is more important is that they can not be entirely explained under the method of science. We think that with Gemma we can not formulate a different judgment from the one the Church has always conceived in regards to “the Poverello”
["The little poor", St Francis of Assisi].
In Gemma's physical martyrdom we recognize the sign of her unequivocal and prodigious mission as "victim".
This [mission of victim] probably started to be revealed in the subtle purification that predisposed Miss Galgani to reach the full union of love with her crucified Spouse. The redemptive influences in her soul coming from her sorrowful ecstasies were never less intense than the purifying influences. During those sublime moments [these influences] must have been so efficacious as to enable the saint to celebrate her spiritual espousal while still very young...(83).
The reader will be able later to judge by himself the truth of these conclusions.
Article. I -The Drama-
One day prior to Christmas - we do not know the year - Gemma confided in Mrs. Cecilia that Jesus promised her a gift. But after the Feast and not having heard anything about it her aunt questioned the girl if she had or had not received the promised gift. The saint unwillingly replied affirmatively to the question according to the permission she had received from her confessor. " ...And you are not telling me?" Insisted Cecilia, then almost suffering she hesitantly explained:
"After Communion there was Jesus and His Mother, and Jesus said to the Madonna;
‘This daughter of Yours shall be regarded as the fruit of my Passion". After that They did not talk about it anymore.”
"It is true - said Mrs. Giannini - that we are all fruits of the Redemptive Passion but it must have been that Gemma did not want to say that she was called to be a privileged fruit in the participation of the Sorrows of the Passion, as I have previously reported.
In fact one day [Gemma] told me that Jesus said: "Know my daughter, that I have so few
in Paradise to whom I have given a taste of all my Sorrows, like I have given to you!'" 84.
Facts prove the above locution. We will document these facts following the progression of the narrative in the Gospel. -Is it not the same Passion in which in the course of centuries the Head reached out to His members? The Gospel is history and prophecy.
“Being in Agony, His Sweat Became as Drops of Blood ..."
During an ecstasy Mr. Matteo Giannini said that Gemma : "seemed to have a drop of blood coming from each hair. It was real blood. I saw the blood stained cloths with which my sister [Cecilia] was drying her with and that they were then put into the laundry.
In the beginning, the blood was exuding from the skin next to the hair, then the entire forehead became like a crown of red drops that were flowing to her face. I saw this sweat of blood on her forehead only once...".(85)
Palmira Valentini one day encountered Gemma and saw her "all full of blood on the temples and forehead".
‘Gemma’ - asked the friend – ‘what did you do?’.
“I said this to be prudent and I did not want to let her know that I knew about her extraordinary and supernatural experiences. Then I said: ‘Come with me to my home; you can wash at my house.’
Gemma, obedient, did as I said and remained calm and serene".(86)
Mrs. Giustina testified: "I saw blood all around her head and forehead, between her hair and I think even from her eyes" (87).
"I saw Gemma again - confirms Annetta, one of the daughters of the Giannini family - drenched in blood from her head and forehead just as you see people drenched in sweat when it is very hot. And, I saw this more than once". (88)
Another eye witness was the good brother Famiano who said he ‘saw her in bed all stained in blood, out of her senses and shaking.’ (89)
The phenomena was also observed by Fr. Pietro Paolo who at that time was incredulous with Mrs. Cecilia:
"I saw it with my own eyes” - he declared – “she was sweating blood. She was sweating real blood from her face, her head, from her ears, from her mouth, nose hands and even from under her nails". (90)
The humble maid [of the Giannini home], Mrs. Zeffira Pracchia, testified to have washed "Many times Gemma's shirts, cuffs, bed linens and pillowcases. They were blood stained"
Very concerned about this, she talked about it with the [Giannini] family. However, she did not want to say anything to Mrs. Cecilia because she was afraid that she would reprimand Miss Galgani. (91).
Lawyer Giuseppe Giannini on one Good Friday saw: "a circle of blood around her head and some drops were flowing from the temples. It was exuding from her skin. I did not touch it. My aunt was drying her with some white cloths that became stained with real red blood. The blood then began flowing again and it was a real bloody sweat.
She was in ecstasy... she was suffering very much. The circle of blood was starting from one side of her forehead to the other. I do not know if it was coming from her hair also. It was a few millimeters wide and it was beginning from the upper part of her forehead and drops were flowing [to the lower area of her face]..." (92)
D. Father Lorenzo Agrimonti also saw it and remained vividly impressed. He wrote a long and detailed report in which he describes the sequence of the event that he himself witnessed from Sept. 1st to Sept 7th, 1899. (93).
[Cf: http://www.stgemmagalgani.com/2009/01/stigmata-scourgings-crown-of-thorns.html -Webmaster]
Cecilia Giannini is the most informed and precise witness: “I saw the bloody sweat from her face and hair. I imagine that it was the same on other parts of her body. I saw this three or four times. The sweat I saw was not clotted blood but fresh blood, and it was dropping to the ground. While this was happening she was in ecstasy and kneeling.
I saw two tears coming from her eyes that were full of blood. At that time I saw that she was suffering very much..."(94)
Her suffering was real and enormous. Gemma's entire body was under the irresistible pressure from the agony of her spirit in Communion with the agonizing Christ at the sight of the sins of the world.
One year, during summer, she prayed quite a lot for unworthy priests, and she was found sweating blood for them..(95)
"I can say” - notes Fr. Pietro Paolo – “that the sweating of blood was the effect of loving God very much and the desire that Gemma had to partake in the Agony of Jesus Christ in His Sacred Humanity". (96)
It has been demonstrated that such phenomena is not above the law of human physiology, since it has been verified in subjects endowed with acute sensibility and those having vivid sorrowful emotions. However in the Saints - as in Our Saviour - what is more astonishing is that the 'cause' of it can only be supernatural.
"…..Then Pilate Took Jesus and had Him Scourged.."
Gemma also suffered the torture of the flagellation. The wounds provoked by the lashes were horrifying just as the wounds of the Stigmata (most properly called) that we will discuss later.
"In regard to the pain of the flagellation - declares Eufemia Giannini- it lasted for four consecutive Fridays in March 1901.
However, I saw her in this way only on the first Friday. She was laying in bed in ecstasy. We lifted the bed covers starting from her feet and I saw her legs up to her knees. The legs were covered by long red stripes, 2cm wide [about 3/4 of an inch] and the length was 15 to 20 cm. [about 6 to 8 inches]. The blood was under the skin exactly as it would appear after a lash, leaving a red stripe. I heard that on each consecutive Fridays, her skin was lacerated more and more; so much that on the last Friday they were very deep wounds, but I did not see them…”(98).
Also Mrs. Giustina states: "I saw two wounds on her legs below the knees. I was sick in bed and Mrs. Cecilia brought Gemma to my room and made her lay on the sofa and then she had me look at her saying: "Look how she is flagellated!” (99)
The eldest daughter Annetta [of the Giannini family] confirms:
"I saw on Gemma's legs two long bloody stripes.” (100)
Ample and very detailed as usual is the description of Cecilia [Giannini] :
"One evening I saw that she was in pain and she went to bed earlier than usual, so I was vigilant in case she felt sick. I was not thinking about supernatural things."
Cecilia noted that at that time the saint did not have anything [unusual ] happen in many weeks.
“All of a sudden I saw on top of her hands bloody stripes. I exposed her neck and her arms, pushing far upwards the long sleeves of her shirt:
Gemma was in ecstasy. I was not thinking at what this could be and I tried to clean her hands with a handkerchief which immediately became stained with blood. I could not imagine what was happening but I heard her say:
'Are these Your blows, Jesus?' Then the flagellation came to my mind. At that time I did not expose her feet. This was the first Friday of March, 1901. It began on Thursday evening and lasted until 4 or 5pm of Friday afternoon.”
"Gemma got up in the morning and came with me to Holy Communion and during the day she tended to her usual chores. When she retired to her bedroom she was immediately in ecstasy and during those ecstasies she was covered with bloody stripes. I do not know if this continued also outside her ecstasis. I was not with her
[at all times]. Usually after 4 or 5 pm she seemed fully recovered..”
"These events were repeated for three weeks on each Thursday to Friday during the month of March. On the next week the flagellations were deeper. I noted on the second week that the stripes were open. On the third week they were deep wounds and exposing only a few parts [of her body] I counted 11 wounds: three on the neck, two on her knees and the rest were on the calves of her legs and on her arms. I did not look between the neck and the knees. I noted though that her gown was blood stained but I did not expose her shoulder nor the back..."(101)
The deposition made by Cecilia during the “Information Process” in Lucca is even more detailed.
“On another occasion I saw that she was suffering more that usual... I went close to her and I was attentively looking at her and I saw that every once in a while she was... trembling. I took her hand and I saw on her arm red stripes.."
On the last Friday of March I was unable to continue to see her suffering so I told her: “Come, out of obedience to Fr. Germano, get up and go to Giustina’s bedroom.” She immediately got up and said : ‘thank you’ and she went where I commanded. The next day I asked her: ‘Gemma, why is it that before I was seeing red stripes but now
the skin is lacerated? Also, when it was all over she would thank Jesus. I noted also that when she was suffering she spoke very little." (102).
When Gemma was reporting to Fr. Germano about her sorrowful ecstasies she was very brief. On Feb. 9th 1901 she wrote:
'As usual this week [Jesus] added another dear [gift] to me. He lets me feel a few blows from the scourging of His Body. Dear Dad [Fr. Germano] it was very painful; but it was nothing compared to the horrible blows that my poor Jesus received!' (103)
And, on Feb. 23rd : "As usual I recieved a few blows from Jesus flagellation.” (104)
However, Cecilia had no reason to be reserved so with her spontaneity she informed Father. Germano: "What things, my Father! What a scene was offered to our eyes! Blessed be Jesus that so much united Gemma to Himself! Believe me, I thought I was seeing Jesus being scourged, and what a way! Gemma wrote to you but she told you only a fraction of what she has suffered. She lasted the entire night under the blows until Friday morning at 10am..." (105)
More startling is the description contained in the letter from Cecilia on March 9th:
"You should have seen how the large lacerations on her knees were pouring blood, one on each leg, one at the breast, on her elbows; in a word I have seen 11 but in fact there were 15. In some parts [of her body ] I was not interested to look 'to save her shame' [ie- to preserve her modesty]...”(106)
Gemma did not show concern nor looked preoccupied. This composure was always that of a victim: "It is just the same dear Dad if Jesus caresses me or if He chastises me. I am indifferent. Actually when He chastises me I am happier because that is what I deserve. My heart embraces all His pains because it is in these that there is every delight". (107)
On one of these Thursday evenings her guardian Angel comforts Gemma telling her :
Gemma further writes on Feb. 23rd :
"Jesus knows of my disposition to suffer everything to make reparation (for my sins). He
sees once again the pain I feel at all my ingratitude and also the pain I suffer when I see Him so mistreated. On Friday then I propose to do this: with a contrite heart I will go in front of Jesus ready to receive from His hand anything that will please Him in reparation for the many outrages that He receives. Strike me; strike me Jesus. I will bless a million times the hand that will exert upon me a most just chastisement. So dear Dad, I ask Jesus to have me suffer; and to suffer much..." (109)
Due to this prayer of a martyr that understood her high mission, thus was Mr. Matteo [Giannini- patriarch of the Giannini family] profoundly convinced. In fact, in finishing his deposition as a man of knowledge as he was, he thus observed:
"I do not believe that Gemma's lacerations were self inflicted or that she fell or anything else: I am most certain that they were supernatural in origin. She offered herself
as victim for sinners and I heard her saying this herself during an ecstasy." (110)
"…Having Twisted a Crown of Thorns, they Placed it on His Head"
Gemma was honored to wear the richest crown as "bride of a Crucified King". On one occasion, an Angel presented to Gemma two crowns: one made of lilies and one made of thorns. She preferred the "one of Jesus". She kissed it smiling and crying. (111)
For Miss Galgani, this nuptial ceremony was not just a symbol. Many times she would feel the hard thorns that would make her spasm in atrocious pain. She hints at this in her Diary when she writes about her ecstasies. However for the scientific severity of our research we gladly return to the depositions of the eyewitnesses.
"I saw blood from her forehead as if it was coming from wounds from a crown of thorns." declared Mr. Matteo Giannini. (113)
"One time” - confirms his daughter Eufemia – “I saw in the middle of her forehead close to the hair line a triangular wound that was well distinguished that remained there for some time. But I do not know what it was".
Sofia Petrucci states something similar:
"One time I saw on Gemma's forehead a drop of blood : perhaps it may have been from the crown of thorns".
The description of Mr. Giuseppe Giannini is more vivid: "During an ecstasy, I believe it was Good Friday, I saw blood flowing from various parts of her head. On her forehead there were marks from which blood was flowing. I understood that these were not self inflicted marks. I saw her thus at 2 pm and on the next morning all the marks were gone
without leaving any scars".
".....Also last Friday”- writes Mrs. Cecilia to Fr. Germano - blood was coming from her head as each single hair had a drop of blood, and some blood fell on the floor.."
Fr. Germano [Ruoppolo] stated:
"On one Thursday Jesus gave her a crown of thorns and He pressed it on her head causing many small fountains of blood that flowed over her face and over the pillowcases. Thus she suffered for one hour; then Jesus blessed her...".
Again writes Mrs. Cecilia:
"Gemma's occurrences are becoming ever more serious. Last Thursday she suffered very much. Around 9pm, Jesus placed a crown of thorns on her head. You should have seen the blood! Eyes, forehead, temples and nose- they seemed like fountains. I soaked two handkerchiefs full of blood; you should have heard the kind of labor coming from
under those ribs,….but what was it?"
Eufemia [Giannini] explains: "together with the flagellation there was also the coronation. I saw her like this one evening and I became frightened.
She was in bed and I could see only her head. Blood was flowing in drops from her forehead and from her eyes like two tears that were congealing. Also, from her nose two rivulets descended to under her neck, forming there a small pool of blood."
Upon seeing the young girl in such a state, D. Father Lorenzo Agrimonti was greatly astonished; he writes:
"She seemed dying; her face was pallid; eyes and mouth were slightly open. She seemed like Jesus in front of Pilate when he paraded Him to the crowd saying:"Ecce Homo!".
I could hear a fatigued breath united to a feeble moan."
This same dolorous image was witnessed also by Mrs. Cecilia.
"And Taking His Own Cross He Went out to The Place of The Skull"
Such a Passioned lover of Jesus, Gemma knew by experience what it meant to follow Him on the way of His immolation.
She knew this for real and not only metaphorically. She carried her cross. We do not lack testimonies [on this] and according to them the saint had a wound on her right shoulder, as is mentioned concerning other mystics.
"It was very large and deep” - writes Fr. Germano – “and it would cause such a great pain to her as to make her walk bent on that side. She retired like all other Friday evenings and till Saturday morning the wound would bleed copiously. However, the difference between Gemma and the other mystics [who experienced the shoulder wound] she would still feel the pain afterwards for quite some time".
But let’s listen to what the eyewitnesses state:
"…her shirt” - states Cecilia – “on one shoulder had a large blood stain...".
Concerning this, Annetta also confirmed that:
"…At times to be kind, I would place my hand on her left (?)shoulder. I could see that Gemma would suffer. I heard later from my aunt that on that shoulder she had a wound.
That was certainly a gift from Our Lord".
The same consideration is made by brother Famiano:
"if I placed my hand on her shoulder, she would experience pain."
We should not be surprised at this. We only wished that this fact would be better documented. It turns out that this wound was never seen by anyone, not even Mrs. Cecilia. However the external signs are very clear, and keeping in mind all the other phenomena of the same kind, it would seem arbitrary to argue its existence. In case that our conclusion would seem unfounded, one would have to suspect that Gemma was feigning when she felt pain on her shoulder. However, this hypothesis would seem absolutely unacceptable. Therefore the wound must have been one of the many of the flagellation, without any doubt of the distinct symbolism thus contained. Therefore the possibility of an inaccurate interpretation does not disprove the factual truth.
"Then They Crucified Him"
On the evening of June 8th, 1899 we can recall of the sweetest and most terrible events of Gemma's mystic ascent:
"The Greatest Grace" of the Stigmata.
These [the stigmata] have decorated the innocent flesh of our heroine. The clearest and most ample account comes from her Autobiography. We report the most significant parts of this prodigy in perfect harmony with what it is read of other great stigmatists.
".....It was evening and all of a sudden and earlier than usual I feel an interior sorrow for my sins and it was so strong that I never felt it that way; that sorrow almost caused me to die".
The humility and contrition for our sins is the first premise for Grace: Gemma can not receive the bloody imprints of the Passion of the Redeemer if she does not at first live the drama of sinful humanity, who in Christ pleads for [Mercy] to the Father, and one is oppressed under the immense weight of our wickedness. But this is not enough:
-the interior sorrow that compels Miss Galgani into agony is rendered more intense by the infused recollection and rapture of the senses in which her soul is plunged at the same time in a loving and sorrowful prostration.
"After this my soul felt profoundly recollected so that my intellect could only ' know' my sins and how they offended God. My memory could recall all of then and would show me all the torments that Jesus suffered for me. My will detested all my sins and I promised to suffer everything to pay for them. My mind was filled with a multitude of thoughts
which were of sorrow, of love, of fear, of hope and comfort.”
"Following this interior recollection was a rapture of the senses and I found myself in front of my Mom (Blessed Virgin). Standing at her right side was my guardian Angel who commanded me to recite the act of contrition.”
To this last solemn protest of unworthiness follows the initial form of explicit pardon of sins and from the Virgin an exhortation to fidelity:
"After I finished [the act of contrition] Mom told me these words: ‘Daughter in the name of Jesus all your sins are forgiven’. Then She said:
‘I will be your Mother. will you show yourself a worthy daughter?’
In my misery I did not know what to answer. She added:
‘I will be your Mother; will you be my true daughter?’
Then She opened her mantle and She covered me with it."
We have arrived at the culminating scene:
"In that instant Jesus appeared, His wounds were open but from the wounds there was no blood but like flames of fire that in an instant touched my hands, my feet and my heart. I felt like as if I was dying, but the Madonna sustained me and covered me in Her mantle.
I remained in that position for several hours. Then my Mom kissed my forehead and all disappeared and I remained kneeling on the floor. I still felt a lot of pain on my hands, feet and on my heart. I stood up to go to bed and I realized that in those parts where I felt pain I was bleeding. I tried my best to cover them and helped by my Angel
I went to bed. Those sores and those pains instead of giving me sorrow brought me a perfect peace. In the morning with difficulty I went to Communion and I donned a pair of gloves to hide my hands. I could hardly stand. Each moment I thought I could die. The pain lasted until 3pm on Friday, the solemn Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Afterwards, every Thursday about 8pm I started feeling the usual pains. While this was happening I would feel a intense sorrow for my sins. This sorrow would cause me more affliction than the pain on my hands, my feet, head and my heart. This suffering for my sins would reduce me into a state of sorrow unto death...."
"...Oh Jesus, what are these strong attractions which unite me so powerfully to You? Is it Your heart which beats so near mine?.......What power there is in Your heart!" -St Gemma Galgani