Gisella Cardia, the psychic who challenged the Vatican

The Sicilian ‘instrument of God’ gathers hundreds of devoted Catholics at the top of a hill in Rome every third day of the month. She assures the public that her statue of the Virgin Mary cries blood and can multiply pizzas and gnocchi. The Church has prohibited her from hosting the monthly ceremony

Madonna di Trevignano
The followers of the psychic Gisella Cardia take part in prayer, while kneeling before the Virgin in Trevignano Romano, a town in the Metropolitan City of Rome.Antonio Masiello (EL PAIS)
Daniel Verdú

Lake Bracciano is located on the outskirts of Rome. Along its shores, on the third of each month, a surreal scene is repeated, combining psychics, prime-time television… and alleged supernatural phenomena. A 54-year-old Sicilian woman — Gisella Cardia, whose real name is Maria Giuseppe Scarpulla — gathers hundreds of faithful Catholics to pray to the Virgin Mary. Her supposed spiritual power emanates from one of the statuettes of the Madonna, which she possesses. Her followers claim that the Virgin cried blood on two occasions (and regular tears on a few others). But Gisella, as they call her, is also respected as an “instrument of God.”

Her acolytes insist that she’s capable of multiplying food. And, unlike the cases of bread and fish which are described in the Gospels, she’s able to reproduce gnocchi and pizza. This is the definitive proof that convinces many of her faithful followers, who have made important donations to a woman who has been convicted of fraud and of falsely declaring bankruptcy. Gisella — a psychic — has challenged the Catholic Church with the ceremonies that she hosts.

Wednesday, April 3, was different from other Wednesdays. Cardia’s popularity has grown in recent months, after the Italian media covered her shady criminal past (she was sentenced to two years in prison for falsely declaring bankruptcy). The Church — fed up with the monthly show that has already lasted five years — decided to investigate her case. The bishop of the corresponding diocese, Monsignor Marco Salvi, had the approval of the Vatican. Following a televised confrontation on one of the programs that dedicates hours to this matter, he handed down a ruling.

After several verifications, the bishop declared that “the analysis of a committee of experts — [which included] a mariologist, a theologian, a psychologist and a canonist, as well as the external consultancy of some specialists” — decreed that the apparitions explained by Cardia “have no ecclesial value, nor can they be used as such, not even in the civil sphere.”

The bishop also prohibited the psychic from appearing again in the Trevignano meadow where she prays with her faithful and a huge statuette of the Virgin, threatening her with excommunication. Because of this, the level of interest in the case exhibited this past Wednesday was unlike anything previously demonstrated.

Gisella Cardia with her husband, Gianni, on May 3, 2023.
Gisella Cardia with her husband, Gianni, on May 3, 2023.Future Publishing (Future Publishing via Getty Imag)

That day, the fenced enclosure was prepared to welcome the faithful at 2:30 p.m. The guests didn’t know if the psychic would appear: Gisella had already disappeared in another occasion.

Pier Giorgio, 72, walked slowly along the mile-long rocky path that leads to the site. He assured EL PAÍS that he didn’t give a damn what the bishop said. “Is the bishop God? No, right?” he asked rhetorically. But what if the psychic were to be excommunicated? Would he still come to prayer? “Of course. This is a difficult journey.”

Little by little, many more participants arrived. Angelo Abruzi — a 61-year-old man with a flower in his hand, who came all the way from the region of Apulia — also had no qualms about placing himself beyond the ecclesiastical perimeter, so long as it’s convenient to protect the psychic. “Look, I wouldn’t come here if I didn’t think something supernatural was happening. Do I look like a hiker?”

The faithful followers of Gisella Cardia pray the rosary before the Virgin in Trevignano Romano.
The faithful followers of Gisella Cardia pray the rosary before the Virgin in Trevignano Romano.Antonio Masiello (Antonio Masiello/EL PAIS)

In 2014, the psychic bought the statuette — which supposedly cries blood — while on a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of the Virgin of Medjugorje, in Bosnia-Herzegovina. And some of her faithful followers — coming from all over the world — claim that they’ve seen subsequent miracles take place. Andrea is one of these true believers: the burly man acts as the volunteer doorman of the miraculous compound in Trevignano Romano. He told EL PAÍS that he previously led a life filled with luxury cars, expensive sneakers and outings to nightclubs... that is, until he became a follower of Cardia. Andrea is one of the devotees who claim to have seen the Virgin cry (although he clarifies that he only saw water, not blood). Another one of his colleagues — who has ties to Italian TV magnate Paolo Vasile — also claims to have seen the same thing. On Wednesday, he was giving high-fives to attendees as they walked through the door, wishing them “good prayers.”

Both men admit that the psychic is suffering the unspeakable these days: “She faces an ordeal like that of Jesus before the cross.” But when asked, they wouldn’t clarify whether or not she plans to attend the monthly meeting after the bishop has prohibited the celebration by decree.

In the background of the ceremony, there’s the imposing Virgin, as well as a huge cross, before which Cardia’s fans knee. There’s also a man paragliding, which adds the aura of a Paolo Sorrentino film to the scene. The atmosphere on Wednesday was filled with anticipation: everyone was waiting for the psychic, who promised not to back down even an inch after the Church criticized her.

Even those who don’t support Cardia were waiting around for her. At the entrance to the meadow, there were three women from the committee that’s been set up against the psychic and her association. Among other things, they protested that the land where the prayer is held — which belongs to the Association of the Virgin of Trevignano Romano, an NGO — shouldn’t be fenced off, as it’s a natural park.

“I hope this ends as soon as possible. We’re the circus of Italy,” lamented Italia Laudano, a resident of this town of 5,000 inhabitants, which has become the focus of religious programming and gossip. “Do I know Cardia? Of course, in the past, she used to be seen in town. She would go to the hairdresser… she would go around saying that she could multiply gnocchi and pizzas. And that she was pregnant with the Holy Spirit! Well, let her show us the ultrasound!” she scoffs, challenging the psychic with the cynicism and irony typical of Rome. Laudano’s sarcasm is present even when she confronts the doorman of the premises: “Hey, you, warrior of light!” she shouts to Andrea, who never loses his smile.

Andrea — a volunteer from the Gisella Cardia Association — acts as the doorman to the area where the rosary is prayed.
Andrea — a volunteer from the Gisella Cardia Association — acts as the doorman to the area where the rosary is prayed.Antonio Masiello (Antonio Masiello/EL PAIS)

The rosary prayer began. Inside, there were about 100 devotees. Someone took the microphone and began listing miracles. But Gisella still didn’t appear. Minutes passed, with the uncertainty growing. “She’s not coming, I’m telling you,” one of the protesting women insisted, while some of those gathered raised their arms or knelt down in the meadow in prayer. “She’s a scammer,” the same woman grumbled.

Beyond the difficulty in accepting her supposed miracles, she refers to the psychic’s case of falsely claiming bankruptcy. She also tells EL PAÍS about the money that some believers gave her. One of the victims is poor Luigi Avella, a retired official from the Ministry of Economy, who gave her 123,000 euros ($134,000) because he thought the Virgin would help his sick wife. Now, as he has announced publicly, Avella wants the money back.

After a while, the psychic’s supporters read a statement to the media: “Mrs. Gisella Cardia won’t be present at the prayer on April 3, so as to demonstrate her effective communion with the Catholic Church. She thus hopes to be able to open a dialogue with the bishop of Cività Castellana, Monsignor Salvi,” the note stated.

However, that dialogue will be complicated, because the diocese — backed by the Vatican — has already ruled that there’s nothing supernatural about Cardia’s show. And many who were present at the ceremony last Wednesday, like Laudano, believe that the psychic has escaped again. “Hopefully [she’s gone] and she should take her Virgin, her pizzas and her gnocchi with her.”

She’ll find out for certain on May 3, when the next ceremony is supposed to happen.

One of the followers of the psychic Gisella Cardia is swarmed by reporters at the entrance to the premises.
One of the followers of the psychic Gisella Cardia is swarmed by reporters at the entrance to the premises.Antonio Masiello (Antonio Masiello/EL PAIS)

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