The Voices of Gemma Galgani

The Life and Afterlife of a Modern Saint

Rudolph M. Bell and Cristina Mazzoni

The Voices of Gemma Galgani

Rudolph M. Bell and Cristina Mazzoni

336 pages | 26 halftones, 1 table, 1 map | 6 x 9 | © 2002
Cloth $30.00 ISBN: 9780226041964 Published January 2003
My sister Angelina knows all about my things. This morning she was talking about my things like they were no big deal; and my brother was making fun of them together with her. I’m not afraid of their jokes, you know? . . . My sister even brought her classmates to the house, and she tells them this, just to make fun of me: "Come, let’s go see Gemma go in ecstasy."

Gemma Galgani was the first person who lived in the twentieth century to become a saint. Born in Lucca to a pharmacist and his wife, Gemma died of tuberculosis at the young age of twenty-five after a life of intense personal spirituality. Jesus caressed her as lovers do; the Virgin Mary was her affectionate Mom; Brother Gabriel playfully teased her about whether she preferred his visits to those of Jesus; and she even received all of Christ’s wounds in her hands, feet, and side. At the same time, she was mocked by her family and labeled a hysteric by doctors and the local bishop. Her trials and the intimate details of her supernatural encounters—the voices of Gemma Galgani—are revealed here in this marvelous book by Rudolph M. Bell and Cristina Mazzoni.

Bell and Mazzoni have chosen and translated the most important of Gemma’s words: her autobiographical account of her childhood, her diary, and key selections from her "ecstasies" and letters. Gemma emerges as a very modern saint indeed: confident, grandiose, manipulative, childish, admired, and with this book, no longer forgotten. Following Gemma’s own voice, Bell carefully contextualizes her life and passion and explores her afterlife, specifically the complicated process of her canonization. Mazzoni closes the book with a "Saint’s Alphabet" that finds, through Gemma’s voice, spiritual meaning for women in the twenty-first century.

Far more than the reinvigoration of a neglected historical figure, The Voices of Gemma Galgani is a portrait of a complex girl-woman caught between the medieval and the modern and a potent reminder of spirituality in a supposedly secular age.
1. The Historical Setting—Rudolph M. Bell
Part One: Her Words: Gemma Galgani’s Life
2. Autobiography—Until Fall 1899
3. Diary—Summer 1900
4. Ecstasies and Letters—Summer 1902
Part Two: Our Readings: Gemma Galgani’s Afterlife
5. Canonization—Rudolph M. Bell
6. A Saint’s Alphabet, or Learning to Read (with) Gemma Galgani: Theory, Theology, Feminism—Cristina Mazzoni
Review Quotes
Sharon Strocchia | Biography
“The authors skillfully navigate the boundaries distinguishing biography from hagiography. . . . The volume tackles important issues of source bias and historical veracity, which loom especially large when trying to make scholarly sense of the ineffable. . . . This volume makes for interesting reading and enhances our understanding of female spirituality and modern Catholicism.”
Paula Kane | Journal of Religion
“[The authors] rescue Gemma from contempt, pity, and platitude. They render her empathetically by tracing the stages of her life and placing her in the context of larger political and religious currents affecting the newly unified Italian state. . . . The book is a fascinating resource for students of women’s mysticism, Italian popular Catholicism, and hagiography. The imaginative use of documentary sources and the richly drawn multivocal portrait of Gemma and her culture are a model for future work.”
John J. O’Brien | Catholic Historical Review
“This is a multi-textured study of the spiritual experience of Gemma Galgani. . . . Mazzoni allows Saint Gemma Galgani to speak to a postmodern world by considering her embodied self and clothing, her devotion to the Eucharist, her difficulties with food and hysteria, and much more. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book.”
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