My sojourn in Italy included a trip to the shrine of Santa Gemma, an Italian Saint of whom I had never heard! I spent a lovely quiet morning praying in the church dedicated to her and then strolled the tiny narrow cobblestone streets within the walled city to her home cared for by Passionista sisters. In the dining room of the small home, where Gemma Galgani lived with a devout family with 12 children, after her own parents died, there is a life size crucifix with the wounds of Christ and the blood clearly and visibly etched. The crucifix is sorrowful and you must reckon with the price our Savior paid for our freedom and reconciliation as you gaze upon it. It is said that one day when Santa Gemma was pouring out her soul and sorrow in front of the statue that miraculously either she was lifted up or he, Jesus, came down and embraced her lovingly for reassurance and comfort. Whether you believe or not is up to you. It is also said that the Virgin Mary smiled lovingly from a painting above the bed of the very ill Teresa Martin, Saint Teresa of the Little Flower, when she was simply a young sick child. From that day she recovered, being devoted to the Virgin Mary the remainder of her short days.
My experiences are nothing of this magnitude…every day however, there is rosary said in front of the oldest statue of the Virgin and child in Brugge, 11th century and stylized as was the genre of the era. The rosary aisle is to the side of the central aisle and many, many visitors and faithful come to pray and light a candle for their need/intention. When I first came to the rosary nearly two years ago now, I found the Virgin somewhat off putting and stern, the baby Jesus on her knee as well. I could not warm up to her. I knew the statue was famous and I allowed for that, but this is how I felt. Now after 2 years of nearly daily rosary, the face of Mary has softened to me and also the baby Jesus. She is almost smiling and I think, how could I have thought she was stern? but then I have been praying there every day for 2 years!! Is it me or is it her? I like to think it is as with icons: a window into the heavenly world, something one can only see when one is willing to pray. It is like honey from the rock; the hardness is gone and only the sweetness remains.