There have been very few Saints who had all five sacred stigmata. The Spirit, as we read in St. John, “breatheth where He will” and as He will, and whether by much or by little, attains His most sublime ends. Gemma was to be among the number of the most privileged, participating not only in the five Wounds of His Crucifixion, but in all the torments of His Passion.
After the sweat of blood in Gethsemani, the first punishment that Jesus willed to suffer in His body was the scourging. Gemma was wont to contemplate this painful mystery with tenderest love. She counted one by one those deep gashes with which she beheld the Body of her Divine Saviour covered, and kept repeating: “All these are the work of Love.” Thus she consumed herself in the desire to see them imprinted on her own flesh. Our Divine Lord Himself, being pleased to increase this desire in her, frequently appeared to her as we have seen, bleeding all over, and invited her to touch and kiss those adorable Wounds. She, unable to withstand the torrent of her grief and the love that such a sight enkindled in her heart, fell senseless at His feet.
At last on the first Friday of March 1901, having wept and implored of her Divine Spouse with renewed ardor to grant her some share in the martyrdom of His scourging, her prayer was granted during the usual ecstasy. The torment was horrible. “Friday,” thus she told me of it, “about two o’clock Jesus let me feel some slight blows. Father, I am all scars that cause me a little suffering. Jesus be praised for ever!” And now let us hear the description of these scars, that no one could call imaginary, from her adopted mother, who examined them several times minutely.
“I noticed,” she says: “that on that first Friday evening Gemma was suffering more than usual while in ecstasy. I lifted up her arms and saw great red stripes on it. On applying a handkerchief to them I found it stained with blood. She suffered greatly, and in the ecstasy I heard her say: ‘But are they Thy stripes, O Jesus?’ Hence I thought that it was the scourging. This was repeated on each Friday in March 1901. The first Friday it was as I have stated. On the second the flesh was torn, and on the third still more bruised, so that the bone was almost visible. On the fourth it was something indescribable – wounds everywhere, that must have been nearly half an inch deep. But I bandaged two of them, these only did not heal, they festered; and when I went to undo the bandages it caused her great suffering. When the bandages were removed they healed of themselves by degrees. I speak of these two wounds especially because the others healed at once. This is how they were disposed: two on one arm, from two to three inches long and very deep; two on one leg, round, and about the size of a florin; one near the middle of her breast in the direction of her throat; two very large oblong ones above the knee; one on each knee and elbow, almost laying bare the bone; one nearly round and very deep on each instep, and a long one on each shin. There were others that I could not see so well. At first they were, as I have said, in stripes; then they became deep gashes, and on being asked the reason for this, she answered: “First they were switchings, now they are scourgings.”
And concluding, this lady added:
“If you wish to form some idea of it, recall to mind the large crucifix that we have in the house, before which Gemma was in the habit of praying; she was like that. The same livid marks, the same torn open gashes in the skin and flesh in the same parts of the body, equally long an deep and equally horrifying to behold. Blood came from her wounds in great abundance. When she was standing, it followed to the ground, and when in bed it not only wet the sheets, but saturated the whole mattress. I measured some streams or pools of this blood, and they were from twenty to twenty-five inches long and about two inches wide.”
All the others who saw those wounds give the same account of them. Hence it is evident how absurd it would be to think for a moment that Gemma could have punished her body in that way by means of the disciplines or other instruments of penance. She was forbidden such austerities, and we know and shall see fully proved that nothing could be more perfect or more scrupulously precise than her obedience.
And then, in any case, how could she have done it, never being left alone in the time of ecstasy, during which the phenomenon in question always manifested itself? Moreover it would have to be explained how such deep gashes in the flesh, if the result of natural causes, could have healed in such a short time. It is needless to discuss how the dear victim felt the intense torment of the cruel wounds and heavy blows that tore open her flesh; that was easily seen by her attitude under the torment.
This article is taken from a chapter in The Life of St. Gemma Galgani by her spiritual director Ven. Fr. Germanus, C.P. which is available from TAN Books.