A friend in Saint Gemma kindly passed along a wonderful high resolution image [to the left] of an icon of St Gemma with the stigmata which is on display at the Monastery-Sanctuary of Saint Gemma in Lucca, Italy. You can click on the image to enlarge it.
St Gemma was given the stigmata for the first time on June 8, 1899, the vigil of the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the stigmata remained throughout the evening until 3pm Friday afternoon, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The stigmata would recur on Thursday night into Friday afternoon thereafter. Many persons of learning and piety were given opportunity to witness them. Among others there came to Lucca in August of the same year, 1899, the Provincial of the Passionists, Father Pietro-Paolo Moreschini, a holy and cultured man who became in later years Archbishop of Camerino. It was but natural that Signora Cecilia Giannini, who had begun to take interest in Gemma, should speak to him of Gemma's extraordinary mystical experiences. The learned Father listened in silence and expressed the desire to see the girl. The meeting was arranged to take place in the afternoon of that very day. During it the Reverend Father showed no sign of special esteem or admiration for Gemma.
When, at the end of the meeting, Gemma implored him to interest himself in getting her admitted into the Passionist Convent of Corneto, he refused to have anything to do in the matter, and went so far as to use humiliating language in his remarks. Gemma gave no indication of interior distress. At the close of the interview the Father said:
"If I must concern myself with your admission into the Convent, I should first be certain of your vocation. Pray Jesus to grant me to see the two signs I myself have asked for at this very moment."
These were the sweat of blood and the stigmata. At about half past two in the afternoon of that day, Gemma, according to custom, went to pray before a large crucifix that stood against the wall of the Giannini's dining room.
Often she had fallen into ecstasy while looking at that: image of the Saviour and often, too, she had been miraculously raised from the ground and been allowed to kiss the Sacred Wounds of Him who died for mankind. Once in September, 1901, while busy with some housework her eyes turned, now and again, to the great crucifix, as if drawn thereto by an inner irresistible force. It called her. "Jesus," she said, at last, unable to bear any longer the flame of love burning within her soul, "let me come to You, for I die of Your love." Suddenly the figure of Christ began to stir with life and stretched forth one arm inviting her to go to Him. Borne on the wings of love she rose to His embrace. For a little while there she stood, as one resting on clouds, to drink with her lips from the fountain of love divine. In memory of this event the light of a ruby lamp now glows, day and night, before that image of the crucifix on the wall of the dining room of Giannini house. This crucifix is held in great veneration by the faithful.
Signora Cecilia, who in the present instance was inspired to the motive of Gemma's going apart to pray, noiselessly came to the door and saw her in ecstasy. She made a sign for the Father to follow her. The face of the ecstatic was pale and motionless, like that of a corpse. A sweat of blood flowed from her eyes, nose, mouth, and ears as well as from the hands. It continued to flow for full half an hour. In the course of the afternoon Gemma, who had returned to her senses and having been inspired by Jesus, said to Signora Cecilia: "The Father has asked for two signs of Jesus. One He has already given to him and He will also give the other. What could the second sign be?" The Signora did not reply, but on meeting the Provincial at about five o'clock she said:
"Father, perhaps the other sign you prayed for is the stigmata?"
"Why do you ask me?" he exclaimed with great surprise. "Because," she answered, "I have seen two red marks appear in the hands of Gemma. They are like those she has every Thursday."
At supper Gemma ate less than usual and soon found an opportunity to withdraw to her room. The ever attentive Signora Cecilia at once read in Gemma's illuminated face the clear indication of an impending miracle. After supper she invited the Father and Father Don Agrimonti to enter the room. This is what the Passionist Provincial stated in the Process for Gemma's Beatification:
"The head of the girl was flexible but without movement. Her face was corpselike, the hands seemed contracted and I saw in the middle of each palm as well as on the corresponding back of the hand, a wound of oval shape and about a centimeter in size. Round the head I saw drops of blood especially over the brows. The phenomenon lasted ten minutes after which the skin resumed its natural color except for a few drops of blood staining the hands."
In a letter from Florence to Monsignor Volpi a few days later, the same Father wrote:
"I saw with my own eyes the wounds in her hands, both in the palms and on the back of the hands. They were really rent open. After the ecstasy they healed up and only a slight scar remained. How could such wounds thus heal immediately by mere natural means? I do not hesitate to say that it is the work of God, and the more so, because this girl is extremely humble, obedient, innocent and has a great love of suffering. I am still of opinion that you should provisionally place her in a convent, for the many reasons of which you are aware."
Notwithstanding this judgment of the Provincial Father, Monsignor Volpi, Gemma’s confessor since childhood, who was indeed very prudent, was still very reluctant to recognize God's finger in these events without even clearer proof. He would not be lightly budged from the path of prudence. In particular he desired that these manifestations, whether divine or diabolical, should cease, and he ordered Gemma to keep clear of them. And for her part, Gemma strove her best to obey, although the effort was not always successful, as the "spirit blows where He wills".
"These things," she wrote, "seem as impossible to me as they do to you but, please, do not blame me for this. I do not want them ... I say to Jesus: 'See, my Jesus, if You had dealt less generously with me, and had loved me less, I might not have loved You so much .... As it is I cannot exist without You: if it be truly You, then make it known to everybody. But if it is the work of the evil one, then I wish to have nothing to do with it.' "
Again and again she has recourse to Him to still the storm that raged in her agitated soul. He reproached her for doubting. Gemma replied: "I doubt because others doubt, but Jesus if it really be You, then make them understand.”
Again she wrote “The happenings of Thursday and Friday continued to take place, and Monsignor thought it well to have me visited by a doctor unknown to me, but I had warning previously from Jesus Himself, Who said to me: "Tell the Confessor that in the presence of the doctor I will do nothing at all that he wishes."
Concerning these “happenings of Thursday and Friday”(as Gemma discreetly called them) Monsignor Volpi, in his prudence, sought the aid of a medical doctor to help discern. He arranged, without telling Gemma, to have one come to examine her. Gemma was warned of this in a dream and was told [in the message above] to make known to Monsignor that his plan did not please God. Despite her admonition, the doctor was brought and he pronounced her a victim of hysteria, for when he applied water to the wounds they entirely disappeared.
God did not intend that human science should have any hand in the mystical experiences of the girl. He could count on Gemma bearing the humiliation, since it was His will. Reading the letters bearing on this visit, one is moved to admiration of the self-abnegation of Gemma and stirred at seeing the heights to which God challenges a soul that has surrendered to His keeping.
If you had only been alone at the time of your last visit, Jesus would have manifested the truth to you. Today, when I began to make the Three Hours Agony, I felt something had happened to me. Yesterday evening Jesus had told me that today you ought to come. I did not wish to begin the hour, because I was confused. At last I submitted. At first I suffered in the head and in the heart, but after a little while Jesus spoke to me thus. "Do you not remember, My daughter, that I told you that there would come a day when no one would believe in you anymore? Well, this is that day. Oh how much more acceptable you are to me thus despised than before when all believed you to be a saint." Jesus then told me that with you there would be another person, who would be a doctor, but that He did not wish him to see anything. Jesus told me today that I should accept that humiliation, and I have done so willingly. It may be, as the doctor has said, that it is hysteria.
Even should it be so, Jesus loves me. I ask your blessing, and pray Jesus that for every kind of suffering that He sends me, He will give me the strength to endure all.
And so, Monsignor Volpi, who seems to have personified in himself the skeptical spirit of our age, made up his mind to clear his doubts by a definite recourse to men of science. He told Signora Cecilia, who faithfully used to report to him the events of each week, that he would call on a Friday to have the stigmata examined by a doctor. The arrangement was kept secret from all. But, as we just read, He who penetrates into the inmost recesses of our thoughts, revealed the secret to Gemma and commanded her to signify to the confessor that, whatever sign he asked would be given, provided he came alone. In the presence of the doctor nothing would happen. It all happened just as Gemma had foreseen.
On September 8, Feast of Our Lady's Nativity, which that year occurred on a Friday, she went into an ecstasy shortly after one o'clock. Blood was flowing from her head as well as from the open wounds on the hands. Cavaliere Giannini together with his wife and Signora Cecilia were there looking with respect and eyes full of wonder. Quite unexpectedly, at about two o'clock, Monsignor Volpi and a doctor entered the room. The latter, after a few minutes' observation, dipped a towel in water and washed the head and the hands of the ecstatic. Straightway the blood stopped and no trace of wounds could any longer be seen.
"There," exclaimed the doctor, "it is all the effect of hysteria. When suffering from this disease, they do these things. They make the blood flow by means of pins and needles."
"No," rejoined Monsignor Volpi with vehemence, "I cannot think this child capable of such deceitful tricks."
For Monsignor Volpi, we must recall, had known Gemma since she was a little girl, and was her confessor since childhood.
Poor Gemma! Far away from the things of earth and intent on the drama of Calvary that was being enacted before her mind's eye, she was wholly unconscious of the events taking place around her. The doctor's sneer, the confessor's doubts, the anguish and pain of Signora Cecilia and Mr Matteo Giannini were for the moment withheld. With unseeing eyes she still looked upon them all wrapped up in a prayer of oblation, offering herself to be nailed to the cross with Jesus. It was surely in answer to this petition that, toward the end of the ecstasy, she saw in a vision the coldness, the doubts, and the scarcely conceived disappointment lurking in the heart of those around her. How shall we describe the feelings of disillusion that passed in her soul when she first consciously stood before the circle of the bewildered friends? Referring to it in a letter to Father Germano, she writes:
"One thought I was a somnambulist; [a person who does things in her sleep -editor] others that I was suffering from some illness; others that I myself had made the wounds in my hands and feet."
Our Lord assured her that these trials had been permitted by Him and would be followed by trials even more painful, but He added: "I shall give you a new spiritual Director by whose aid Monsignor Volpi will be won over to your side."
Toward evening Signora Cecilia went out of the house for a stroll and for a breath of fresh air. She took Gemma as a companion. They had not gone far when the latter timidly said: "Will you, please, take me to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I need Him."
They entered a church nearby and prayed for nearly an hour during which Signora Cecilia never withdrew her eyes from her ecstatic companion. "I would say something to you but I am so ashamed of myself," Gemma said on coming out of the church, and added: "Look at my hands." They were bleeding and there appeared on them two clear wounds. Monsignor Volpi, to whom Gemma was taken, saw the blood and attentively examined the wounds but expressed no opinion. Outwardly he was still incredulous, but in his heart he could no longer deny that appearances were all against him.
Yesterday evening Jesus told me that I ought to tell you these things: "Tell your Confessor that whatever sign he wishes of Me I will give him; provided that he is alone. I will then convince him that it is not a usual illness. It is not your doing. Tell him that I will send you many crosses! And that instead of receiving love, I will receive dislike and contempt, and in addition, I will be abandoned, even by Jesus Himself." Therefore, when Jesus allows me to suffer thus, I must not dwell on the pain, but I should prepare myself for other crosses in order to sustain them bravely, for Jesus once said to me: "Do you know, daughter, for what reason I send crosses to souls dear to me? I desire to possess their souls, entirely, and for this I surround them with crosses, and I enclose them in tribulation, that they may not escape from my hands; and for this I scatter thorns, that souls may fasten their affections upon no one, but find all content in Me alone. My daughter, if you do not feel the cross it cannot be called a cross. Be sure that under the cross you will not be lost. The demon has no strength against those souls who for My love groan under the cross. Oh My daughter, how many would have abandoned Me if they had not been crucified. The cross is a gift too precious, and from it come many virtues."
I prayed then to Jesus that He would not concede to me any grace except that of loving Him very much, and Jesus said: "Oh soul dear to me, if you truly love Me, behold My chalice; you can drink it to the last drop. On this chalice I have placed My lips, and I want you to drink it." I told Jesus to do with me as He would. And then He said to me: "I have sent this cross to you, you do not appreciate it; rather it is contrary to your desire, but the more it is contrary, the more it is like Mine. Would it not seem to you a dreadful thing to see a father in the midst of sorrow and the children enjoying themselves? When I shall be your Spouse of blood, I will come to you, but crucified; show your love to me as I have shown it toward you, and do you know how? By suffering, pains, and crosses without number. You ought, therefore, to consider yourself honored, if I lead you on paths hard and painful; if I permit that you be tormented by the demon, that the world despise you, that persons most dear to you afflict you, and with daily martyrdom, I permit your soul to be purified and tested. And you, daughter, think only of practicing great virtue; run in the path of the Divine Will, humbled, assured, that if I hold you to the cross, I love you."
I ask your blessing.
Believe nothing, because perhaps this is all imagination.
The very human reaction of Gemma to these doubts of others and humiliations is indicated in another letter:
Pardon me if again today I importune you. It seems to me that Cecelia Giannini is very much displeased with me since the visit of the doctor with Monsignor Volpi. Jesus Himself seems to have told me of her disappointment and she has felt the strange outcome of the visit very much; but He assures me that it has not been I who have given her cause for this unpleasantness. Jesus has allowed it thus. If you think it advisable, set her mind at rest. It seems that she has changed a little toward me; speak to her about it or do as you think best.
If you could only see how many other persons also have changed toward me in these days on account of what happened. I imagine I can see the thoughts that pass through the minds of others. Because of all these things there were some days when I did not pray any more for sinners. Jesus reproved me and told me that I should give thought only to poor sinners and not to these other things which He will take care of Himself. I am to think of nothing. He told me again that I am to be put into a convent at once.
These things, as I have always said, may all be in my imagination and therefore, do not believe them. Do as Jesus wishes, because I am sure that Jesus will tell you what to do.
I ask your most holy blessing and commend to Jesus the poor
From these letters we see that it was not God’s will for the supernatural graces given to Gemma to be subjected to men of science, but were to be subjected only to the judgement of the Church through God's appointed ministers. Monsignor Volpi could not pass over the phenomena that weekly occurred in her life, nor the gossip ensuing which was a cause of real suffering to the innocent girl. His consultation with men of science had failed to aid him. The doctor's visit had indeed made things more confusing in his mind. He turned to Gemma herself, and with the humility characteristic of a truly noble soul earnestly requested her to obtain from God for him an understanding of what was God's wish for him in her regard. Gemma did so as related in the following letter:
I was again commanded by the confessor, Father Gaetano, to ask God to refrain from sending me the manifestations of Thursday and Friday, and Jesus for a little while consented. Shortly thereafter, however, all happened as before on Thursday evening and Friday and even more often. I no longer had any fear of revealing everything to the Confessor, and he told me decidedly that if Jesus did not make him see things clearly concerning me, he would not believe such fantasies. On the same day I said a special prayer to Jesus in the Sacrament in regard to this and, as often happened to me, I felt internally recollected and soon lost myself. I found myself before Jesus but He was not alone. He had with Him a man with white hair; by his habit I knew him to be a Passionist priest; he had his hands joined and he prayed fervently. I looked at him and Jesus spoke these words:
"Daughter, do you know him?" I said no, as was true. "See," He added, "this priest will be your director, and he will be the one who will recognize in you the infinite works of My mercy."
This white-haired Passionist priest was Venerable Stanislas Germano Ruoppolo, C.P. [Germano Ruoppolo has been officially declared “venerable” by the Catholic Church-editor) And those who know the story of Gemma know the important a role he was to have in the extraordinary life of Gemma.
But to continue with the story of Gemma’s stigmata, in the letter below we see that like us the Saints are also very human, and at times while Gemma’s spirit within her accepted all, the flesh at times rebelled.
Sometimes, when I ought to begin to pray, especially on Friday, I seem not to have the inclination, and Jesus says to me: "Embrace the cross, my daughter; be sure that, while you are satiated with suffering, you are satisfying my Heart, and remember, the more bitter the cross is to you, the more it conforms to mine. I, you see, have compassion on your weakness. I send you drop by drop the chalice of my Passion and I give you a little part of My suffering at a time."
Do I do badly not to have the inclination when Jesus calls me? Even now, on Thursday evening, I feel that I do not wish to suffer this evening, but do you know my Angel Guardian tells me to be patient, because Jesus proportions the suffering as He wishes, and so orders the circumstances and disposes my heart to receive it. And then it is not at all the suffering which ought to conform to us, but we ought to conform to the suffering.
I ask your blessing, and pray so much to Jesus for poor me, who has so much need.
In the end, concerning Gemma’s stigmata, some years later Monsignor Volpi writes:
"I must confess I felt as if in the presence of a supernatural fact, the more so that, as I was assured, the following day the wounds had disappeared. Today, after some years of experience I am convinced that God permits at times these extraordinary phenomena to give to men a manifest proof of His interior workings in the souls of those whom He loves in a special manner." [St Gemma’s confessor since childhood, Monsignor Giovanni Volpi, auxiliary Bishop of Lucca]
Click here for more information on the Stigmata of St Gemma
How do I feel? Well, my Mother, I feel a little ill. I am experiencing a pain in my head, but it is not the pain of Jesus [the crown of thorns -editor]. Do you want to give me this one? Both of them willingly...
When will Jesus come? Tell Him you, too, Mother, want me. I want to go with you ... I have asked Him for so long! I wish Jesus would bring me very quickly to Heaven.
My Mother, I desire to possess you always and I do not wish to be separated from you any longer. Oh! bring me to Paradise. I can live no longer without you. Do you see the suffering that you are causing me? I need your heart. Yes, each day I seek you in order to pour into this heart the sorrowful transports of mine. Do not leave me...Oh my Mother, Oh my Mother! If you are truly touched with compassion.--Oh! Why do you part from a child who loves you so tenderly? If you are not here, then who will listen to my prayers?....Who will grant my wishes? Without you I am as a beggar-girl stripped of all help. Mother, why do I give up?
Lead me also to Paradise. Oh my Mother, my Mother, you are a very pure flower with the whiteness of a lily." -St Gemma Galgani