From Publishers Weekly
Few in North America are familiar with the writings of Gemma Galgani, the first person who lived into the 20th century to be canonized as a saint. The tempestuous and passionate saint was born in Lucca, Italy, in 1878. (You can tell she's Italian because one of her significant angelic visions occurred in the kitchen while she watched a servant shaping meatballs.) She succumbed to tuberculosis at the tender age of 25, after receiving numerous visits from Jesus, the Virgin Mary and various angels. In The Voices of Gemma Galgani: The Life and Afterlife of a Modern Saint, Rudolph Bell (Holy Anorexia) and Cristina Mazzoni (Saint Hysteria) offer the saint's own autobiographical writings, including her memoir of childhood, miscellaneous letters and her diary. The documents raise some fascinating questions about the nature of sainthood and religious devotion. Was Gemma an inspired young woman, heroic in her physical sufferings and prescient in her mystical understanding? Or was she simply mad? Her writings show her to be perhaps a combination of the two-thoroughgoing in her religious devotion, yet also emotionally manipulative and psychologically precarious. This absorbing collection of primary sources and scholarly analysis sheds light on one of the modern era's most intriguing yet understudied female saints.
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"A young Italian laywoman, Gemma Galgani (1878-1903) was the first person who lived in the 20th century to be canonized (1940) as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. She was a mystic in the medieval mode, complete with ecstatic visions, extreme asceticism, and stigmata. . . .The book under review includes English translations of Galgani's complete autobiography and diary as well as selected letters and ecstatic utterances. Bell introduces the historical setting, while Mazzoni applies feminist theology and theory to expand understanding of Galgani's life and work. This sympathetic yet thoroughly scholarly work is the first book-length treatment of St. Gemma in English since 1950."
"Bell and Mazzoni demonstrate how potentially subversive Gemma's physical eloquence was.... At the heart of Bell and Mazzoni's endeavour is an understanding that a phenomenon may retain spiritual value, even after its biological and psychological roots have been uncovered."
(Hilary Mantel London Review of Books
"Was Gemma an inspired young woman, heroic in her physical sufferings and prescient in her mystical understanding? Or was she simply mad? Her writings show her to be perhaps a combination of the two--thoroughgoing in her religious devotion, yet also emotionally manipulative and psychologically precarious. This absorbing collection of primary sources and scholarly analysis sheds light on one of the modern era's most intriguing yet understudied female saints."
“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.”
(Sharon Strocchia Biography
“[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.”
(Paula Kane Journal of Religion
“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.”
(John J. O'Brien Catholic Historical Review