Words on fire
Gemma Galgani and the power of authorial voice
Keywords:Embodiment, Gender and Sexuality, Christian History, Medieval Mysticism, Hagiography, Authorship, Contemporary Catholicism
With a focus on the archives of Gemma Galgani (1878–1903), lay Italian Catholic mystic, stigmatic, and first saint of the twentieth century, the current article highlights the ways in which Gemma cultivated relationships with the hierarchy, specifically through writing, which challenged the ‘traditional,’ clerically approved models of late nineteenth-century Catholic sanctity. With attention to Gemma’s writing, a saint who has otherwise been portrayed by her hagiographer as fitting neatly into the strictures of Italian Catholicism of her time, we see rhetoric that contests the assumption that submission is a necessary component of ‘piety.’ Attending to Gemma’s letters sent to her spiritual advisor, the current study underscores the ways in which we may understand Gemma as more than the quiet, humble, and wounded body for which she has been canonized. Gemma as author, as writing body, as I will show, weaves for herself an alternative system of agency that co-exists with – while at the same time reimagines – the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
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