We know without a doubt that throughout the last few years of her life, Gemma was fiercely attacked by the devil and the demons. In the final days and weeks of her life she repeatedly requested an exorcism, and it was repeatedly denied her. So, it is a question that has been asked on many occasions: 'Was St Gemma ever possessed by the demons at one time or another?'
Soon after her mystical life began (especially after her miraculous cure and the gift of the stigmata) the Devil, having exhausted all the ordinary means by which he strives to draw and tempt souls away from God, soon came to the attack Gemma in person, and Gemma was called upon to face all the unmasked malignity of the adversary, and face it alone. By the express permission of God, he was allowed to torment her with terrible physical suffering, agonizing headaches which made it almost impossible to pray. "What a torment it is not to be able to pray! What fatigue it costs me. What efforts that wretch makes so that I may be incapable of prayer. Last evening he tried to kill me, and would have done so if Jesus had not come to my aid. I was terrified, but kept the image of Jesus in my mind, although I could not utter His name."
Then the Devil would change his tactics and say: "How stupid you are to think of praying to a criminal. Look at the harm He does you, keeping you nailed to the Cross with Himself. How can you care for one whom you do not even know-who makes all suffer who love Him? "
The Prince of darkness
In a letter to Mgr. Volpi, Gemma writes: "I must I tell you what happened last night. I never went to bed, because the Devil frightened me with his blasphemies, and I thought he was in the room; I could neither sleep nor pray. I did not make my meditation, nor pray from 11am to 12:00. I went to church, but when the time came I felt I could not go to Holy Communion. I came out of the church and I heard the Devil laughing very loudly. I under¬stood why, went back to church again and received Holy Communion. Jesus told me had I not conquered that morning I should never have done so...Yesterday morning my aunt asked me to draw a bucket of water; I filled it and bringing it back had to pass before the picture of the Sacred Heart. I saluted Jesus with these words: ' Jesus, make haste, give me the grace to be ever united with You, in such a way that I may never be separated from You!' Just after I had said this I felt a series of sharp blows on my shoulder, so that I fell to the ground, but without breaking anything."
While writing to Father Germano the Devil snatched the pen from her hand, tore up the paper, dragged her from the table, and tore the hair from her head. Finally, as he left her, he cried: "War, war against your father, war as long as he lives! " "And," adds Father Germano, "the fiend has known right well how to keep his word."
"Believe me," wrote Gemma, "to hear this despicable wretch one would think that his fury was rather against you [Fr. Germano] than against me."
But the Devil tried another way, that of destroying her confidence in God, assuring her that she would infallibly be damned and that her soul belonged to him. "Do you not see," said he, "that this Jesus does not hear you, and wants to have no more to do with you. Give up, and be resigned to your unhappy lot." This is one of the Devil's most subtle temptations, one which has caused agonies to many holy souls, and Gemma experienced it to the full.
He appeared to her in all sorts of horrible forms, sometimes as a ferocious dog, at others as some hideous monster or as a giant infuriated with rage. First he would threaten, then fall upon her, beat her, drag her by the hair and torture her in every conceivable way. "Yesterday evening as usual I passed a very bad night. The Devil came before me in the form of a gigantic man, very big and very tall, who kept on beating me all night and repeating: 'For you there is no hope of salvation. You belong to me.' I answered: 'God was very merciful and therefore I feared nothing.' At this he was so enraged that he struck me a sharp blow on the head, exclaiming: 'May you be cursed,' and then he disappeared.
I went to our room to rest a little and he was there again and began beating me with a knotted rope, and he asked whether I would let him teach me to do evil. I answered, 'No,' then he struck me more violently and began beating my head on the ground. At a certain point I cried out, ‘Eternal Father, through the most precious Blood of Jesus deliver me.' I do not quite know what happened, but the Devil thrust me from the bed, so that my head struck the ground with great violence. I felt a great pain, lost my senses and remained there on the ground till I came to some time afterwards."
On another occasion she writes to her spiritual father: "Come quickly, Father, or at least make the exorcism from a distance. The Devil has pursued me in every possible way. Ah, if you only knew how I have suffered. How pleased he was this night. He seized me by the hair and dragged me about exclaiming, 'Disobedience, disobedience, now there is no more time to begin again. Come, come with me,' and he tried to carry me off to Hell. He tormented me like this for more than four hours, and thus I passed the night."
Father Germano adds a personal experience of his own which occurred one night when Gemma was dangerously ill: "On one occasion I was there to assist her as she was in danger of death. While I was sitting in the corner of the room saying my Breviary, suddenly a large dark-coloured ferocious looking cat rushed past me, and after tearing round the room sprang upon the end of the iron bedstead directly in front of the sick girl and fixed its savage eyes upon her. I felt my blood freeze in my veins, but Gemma remained perfectly calm. Trying to hide my agitation, I said, 'What is the matter? ' And she replied: 'My father do not be afraid, it is this hateful demon who wants to annoy me, but do not be afraid, he will not harm you.' Trembling, I approached with holy water and sprinkled it upon the bed and the vision vanished, leaving her as tranquil as if nothing had happened."
Gemma mentions another experience thus: "Today I hoped I should be entirely free from that loathsome animal, but instead he has knocked me about a great deal. I went to bed with the full intention of sleeping, but that was not to be. He began with blows which made me fear I should die. He came in the shape of a big black dog, who put his paws on my shoulders and hurt me very much. I felt it in my bones, so that I thought some of them must be broken. Even when I was taking holy water he gave such a violent wrench to my arm that the pain caused me to fall. The bone was dislocated, but went back, for Jesus touched it and all was well again."
Gemma was not afraid, the invocation of the Holy Name put him to flight, and she laughed at his discomfiture. "If you had only seen him, father, how he ran and how often he tripped as he fled and gave vent to his rage, you could have laughed too. How horrible the sight of him is. But Jesus has told me not to be afraid."
But was Saint Gemma ever possessed?
So, we can see that St Gemma was obviously oppressed and vexed by the demons. But was she ever possessed? During her last months the devil almost continually tormented her, hoping that through her physical weakness he might find a way to drive her to despair. On one occasion he made her food so as to appear as repulsive insects, and the demons in hideous forms would appear near or on her bed. On one occasion she felt a demon in the form of a serpent seeking to coil itself around her, which caused her to let out a frightened cry. She asked for an exorcism on several occasions, but Monsignor Volpi, her beloved confessor since childhood did not judge it necessary, and would recite only a short exorcism prayer along with a blessing.
On the very morning of her death, the devil appeared once again, this time in the form of a black, ferocious dog. Gemma asked once again for an exorcism, so Cecilia then went to get her confessor, Monsignor Volpi. He replied: "Tell her if it if to hear her Confession, then I will come. If it is to assist her in her agony, then there is the Curates." [ie-parish priests] This reply seems harsh, but it must be remembered that Mons. Volpi was the auxiliary Bishop of Lucca, and Holy Saturday was an exceptionally full day for him. When Cecilia returned and told Gemma Mons. Volpi's reply, she took the crucifix in her hands and said: "You see Jesus, I really can do no more. If it is Your will, take me." Then turning to the picture of the Blessed Mother on the wall she said "My Mother, I commend my soul to you. Tell Jesus to be merciful to me."
After the solemn midday ceremonies were over, Monsignor Volpi had enough time to pay Gemma a hasty visit. Her gave her a blessing and asked her if she was now satisfied. Gemma replied "no" and asked him once again for a real exorcism. "I must go to wish the Archbishop a happy Easter" he replied, "but I will come back and see you later on." Gemma had been suffering for four long months, so her beloved confessor did not realize that her death was imminent. It was in fact the last time he saw Gemma alive.
As the Auxiliary Bishop of Lucca, Monsignor Volpi was very well educated, and was esteemed by many for his devotion to God and His Church. But why would he not give Gemma an exorcism since she repeatedly requested it? It is more than likely because as her confessor since childhood, he knew that Gemma had always sought God with all her heart, and was in a state of grace, so surely he felt that an exorcism was not necessary, as her will was most certainly turned towards God, and not the devil. And by that time the attacks of the devil upon Gemma where nothing new to Monsignor Volpi, and he knew from experience how Gemma always triumphed over the attacks through prayer, and her love and trust in Jesus and the blessed Virgin. By then he knew that Gemma was possessed by God, and not the demons, and the only thing the devil could really do against her was to oppress her make her suffer---and this was something that the devil never seemed to tire in doing.
There is however, a belief among certain exorcists and theologians that God will allow certain victim souls such as Gemma to actually become possessed, so that the battle for the conversion of sinners actually takes place within them. Thus they [the victim souls] become the “stakes” in the battle. There is one old booklet in particular, published in the early 1900’s and written by a very experienced exorcist of 30 years that delves very deeply into this idea. The name of the booklet is “Mary Crushes the Serpent” and I have written an article about it (Click here).
So, was Gemma ever possessed by the devil at one time or another? It think that in the end the answer is “maybe”, but without a doubt her will was always united to God, and as her spiritual director Venerable Father Germano C.P. insists in his book "The Life of St Gemma Galgani", she was always in a state of grace, as she was always careful to never commit willful sin and she went to Confession weekly.
-St Gemma, pray for us!
Click here for an article on St Gemma vs. the devil
"Do You wish to know, Jesus, who has forbidden me to think about sinners? The devil. On the contrary, Jesus, I recommend them to Thee. Think of them, oh Jesus, all poor sinners, and teach me to do as much as possible to save them." -St Gemma Galgani