Shortly after my mom passed away I began to read and learn more about St. Gemma, but things really started happening on November 10, 2011. My wife and I were leading a pilgrimage to Rome with our friend Brian as our tour guide. On this sunny November day we took a day trip to Lucca to visit St. Gemma. I was excited, but had no idea what to expect. We arrived by train late in the morning and began the walk around the outside wall of Lucca to St. Gemma’s Monastery (see image on left). When we arrived we were greeted by a huge picture of St. Gemma on the front of the church. A close up of her looking up in prayer. Once inside we were drawn immediately to her tomb. I knelt down and touched my rosary to the glass that guarded her statue. We could see the stains on her eyes that we later learned were from tears of blood (see image on right).
After a few moments I sat in a front pew and began to pray the rosary. I’m not one to have spiritual experiences, but as I prayed and gazed at her tomb, I felt a big lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. If I looked away from her golden image the feelings would subside, only to return if I looked at her again. I had only begun the second decade when an Italian gentleman walked up to me and said something to me in Italian. I indicated that I did not speak Italian and motioned him to Brian, who spoke a little. A minute later the man walked in front of me, from left to right, followed closely by my wife and then Brian. I gave Brian a puzzled look and he threw up his arms to tell me he did not know what was going on either. When the three of them exited the church out the door to my right, I decided I should follow them. When I arrived outside the man was ringing a doorbell to a “St. Gemma Museum and Gift Shop.” I was very excited to see this, but when a short Passionist nun answered the door he said something to her in Italian and she went right back inside. A minute later she returned and gave him a key and then shut the door again. I assumed the key was to let us in the shop a little later.
Next he directed us to look at another large picture of St. Gemma that hung on the side of the church (see image to the left with the man, Brian and me). This one is the popular front view of her with that piercing stare and her hair back in its usual bun. He had us stare at the picture and walk back and forth in front of it. Her eyes followed you wherever you went. He then took us up the ally on the side of the church, out toward the street, about 200 feet from the picture. Her eyes still followed us.
He then began to lead us down the street, around a corner, and down another street toward the town. I said to my wife, Sue, that I didn’t want to leave yet. I wanted to go into the shop. Sue, whose knowledge of Spanish helps her understand bits of Italian, told me that she thinks he wants to take us to Gemma’s house. “So, that’s what the key was for,” I thought. I quickly shut up.
As we walked through the beautiful town of Lucca, the man spoke in Italian to Brian and he translated as best he could these amazing stories about St. Gemma that the man was telling him. A walk that should have taken 20 minutes took 45 as we stopped frequently so the man could explain with his hands (Italians… you know). We learned about her guardian angel delivering letters, how she was averse to being hugged or kissed, about her talks with Jesus and her sufferings.
At last we arrived at the Galgani’s apartment. We went upstairs and the man showed us the different relics that adorned the rooms of the home turned museum. The second to last room we entered simply had a crucifix and a large closed triptych. He opened the triptych to reveal and marvelous icon of St. Gemma receiving the stigmata from Jesus, with Mary and her guardian angel at her side. He then revealed to us that we were standing on the floor where this miraculous event took place. The three of us fell to our knees in thanksgiving. Brian and Sue wept.
As we left the house the man told us that St. Gemma brought him to this house just as he brought us. We were completely amazed. We tried to offer him some money, but he would have none of it. As we walked back from the house the man received a second phone call on his cell phone. Brian later told us that he was explaining to his wife that only one of us spoke Italian and it took longer than he thought. Apparently he was very late for lunch. I believe his name was Giovanni, but I’m not sure. We have no idea why he choose us to take to Gemma’s house, but we are eternally grateful that he did.