Rome’s Purgatory Museum: A November Pilgrimage

(Last time, I promised to follow up Ad Rem 89 with some concrete advice. This will come, God willing, but first something more timely for November.)

Fingerprints burned into a prayer book. A clearly visible charred hand print on a wooden table. Similar marks on shirt sleeves, a night cap, and aprons. These are among the curiosities to be seen in Rome’s Purgatory Museum.

Known as the “Little Purgatory Museum” (Piccolo Museo Del Purgatorio), the display consists of one large glass-enclosed case in a small room adjoining the sacristy of the Parish of the Sacred Heart in Prati. The parish church is situated on the Lungotevere Prati, that is, the Prati section of the street that runs parallel to the Tiber (the Lungotevere). It is a very short walk upstream of Castel Sant’Angelo.

Aside from the Purgatory Museum, the Church itself is something to see. Not as grand as many other Roman Churches, it is uniquely Gothic. There aren’t too many Gothic churches in Rome. Baroque, yes; Romanesque, yes; but Gothic, not too many. Perhaps it should be called “neo-Gothic,” as the Church dates from the late nineteenth century.

According to what purports to be a Reuters story online:

The museum, about 100 years old, was the brainchild of Victor Jouet, a French priest who traveled to Belgium, France, Germany and Italy, scooping up relics to display in his Gothic church on the banks of the Tiber.

Jouet died in the museum’s only room in 1912, surrounded by his treasures, but the collection lives on despite a discussion in the late 1990s about whether to close it.

Below I have reproduced both sides of the simple handout one finds in the museum. Since I see no copyright on it, I took the liberty. I corrected some awkward English and removed references to the recorded audio guide on hand to assist pilgrims. I have also inserted the couple of relatively decent pictures I took. Since the relics are all behind glass in a not-so-well-lit room, getting a good photograph is not easy, especially for a rank amateur like me.

The Facade of the Church

The Facade of the Church

Parrocchia Sacro Cuore in Prati

Lungotevere Prati 12 – ROMA



1. Photographic reproduction of the altar of Our Lady of the Rosary located in a chapel which existed before 1900 between the present church and the religious house. One can see the picture which remained on the wall after a small fire took place on 15 November 1897.

2. Three finger-prints on the prayer book of Maria Zaganti of the Parish of St. Andrew in Poggio Berni (Rimini), left by the deceased Palmira Rastelli, the parish priest’s sister, on 5 March 1871. Palmira Rastelli, who had died on 28 December 1870, asked her brother, Don Sante Rastelli, by means or her friend, for some Holy Masses.

3. The apparition, in 1875, of Luisa Le Sénèchal (born at Chanvrières; died on 7 May1873), to her husband Luigi Le Sénèchal, in their house at Ducey (Manche-France), asking him to pray for her and leaving as a sign the print of five fingers on his night-cap. According to the document authenticating the apparition, the burn on the night-cap had been by the deceased lady so that the husband could give a concrete proof to their daughter of the request to celebrate Masses.

4. A photocopy (the original is kept at Winnemberg near Warendorf in Westfalia, Germany), of a burn mark made on the apron of Sister M. Herendorps, a lay sister of the Benedictine Monastery of Winnemberg, on Saturday 13 October 1696 by the hand of the deceased Sr. Mary Care Schoelers, a choir sister of the same order, a victim of the plague of 1637. The lower part of the photocopy shows the impression of two hands made by the same Sister on a strip of linen.

5. A photo of the mark made by the deceased Mrs. Leleux, on the sleeve of her son Joseph’s shirt, when she appeared to him on the night of 21 June 1789 at Wodecq (Belgium). The son related that for a period of eleven consecutive nights, he had heard noises which almost made him sick with fear, at the end of which his mother appeared to him on 21 June 1789. Reminding him of his duty or having Masses said in compliance with the terms of a legacy left him by his father, she reproached him for his way of life and begged him to change his behaviour and to work for the Church. Then she put her hand on the sleeve of his shirt, leaving on it a very clear impression. Joseph Leleux was converted and founded a congregation of pious laity. He died in the odour of sanctity on 19 April 1825.

6. A finger print left by the pious Sister Mary of St. Luigi Gonzaga, when she appeared to Sister Margareth of the Sacred Heart, on the night between 5 and 6 June 1894. As recorded in the annals of the monastery of St. Clare of the Child Jesus in Bastia (Perugia), Sr. Mary suffered from tuberculosis, high temperature, coughs and asthma, and was so depressed that she wished greatly to die so as not to endure such suffering. Being a very fervent soul, however, she resigned herself to God’s will. She died a holy death a few days later, on the morning of 5 June 1894. That same night she appeared dressed as a Poor Clare nun in a hazy atmosphere, but Sister Margareth could recognize her. To Sister Margareth’s surprise, the deceased nun said that she was in Purgatory to expiate for her lack of patience in accepting God’s will. She asked for prayers and as a proof of her apparition she placed her forefinger on the pillow and promised to return. In fact, she appeared again to the same nun on June 20 and 25 to thank and give spiritual advice to the Community before she went up to Heaven.

Fr. Panzini's Handprint and Cross

No. 7: Fr. Panzini’s Handprint and Cross

7. Marks left on a small wooden table and on the sleeve and chemise of the Venerable Mother Isabella Fornari, abbess of the Poor Clares of the Monastery of St. Francis in Todi. The four marks were left by the deceased Fr. Panzini, former Abbot Olivetano of Mantua, on the 1st November 1731. The first mark is on the left hand impressed on the table which Mother Isabella used for her work (it is very clear and bears the sign of a cross cut deeply into the wood); the second is of the same left hand made now on a sheet of paper; the third is of the right hand and was made on the sleeve of the Abbess’s tunic; the fourth is the same made on the tunic, but which passed through the tunic and left an imprint on the sleeve of the chemise, stained with blood. The account of this event was given by Fr. Isidoro Gazata of the Blessed Crucifix, the confessor of the Abbess. He ordered her to cut off from her tunic and chemise the parts where the marks were made and to give them to him to keep.

8. Mark left on the copy of «The Imitation of Christ» belonging to Margherite Demmerlé of Ellinghen Parish (diocese of Metz) by her mother-in-law who appeared to in 1815, thirty years after her death in 1785. The deceased lady appeared dressed as a pilgrim in the traditional costume of her country; she was coming down the stairs of the barn sighing and looking at her daughter-in-law, almost as if begging for something. Margherite, on the advice of the parish priest, spoke to her and received the following answer: «I am your mother-in-law who died in child-birth thirty years ago. Go on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariental, and have two Masses said for me there. After the pilgrimage she appeared again to Margherite to tell her that she had been released from Purgatory. When her daughter-in-law, on the advice of the parish priest, asked her for a sign, she put her hand on the book and left a burn mark. After that she appeared no more.

Joseph Schitz' fingerprints on a German Prayerbook

No. 9: Joseph Schitz’ fingerprints on a German Prayerbook

9. Fiery finger prints by the deceased Joseph Schitz when he touched with his right hand the (German) prayer book of his brother George on 21 December 1838 at Sarralbe (Lorraine). The deceased man asked for prayer in expiation of his lack of piety during his life on earth.

10. Photocopy of a ten lire Italian banknote. Between 18 August and 9 November 1919 a total of thirty such notes were left at the Monastery of St. Leonardo in Montefalco by a deceased priest who asked for Masses to be said. (The original of this note has been returned to the Monastery of St. Leonardo where it is still kept).

Over the Door, The Holy Souls

Over the Door, The Holy Souls

  • Don Flynn

    Very interesting. Did the local Ordinary or other appropriate authority grant aproval of these matters? If this is the case, a five star rating seems appropriate.

  • Brother André Marie

    I don’t know what sort of approbation any of the relics have, Mr. Flynn. That information was not in what I saw at the Museum.

  • Dan Bukr

    I am a bit confused. After death, our bodies await the final judgement in the grave or whereever. Only our soul goes to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory. How can a soul (spirit) leave all these handprints etc on physical items? I take it the Church has not either approved or disapproved these stories. I hope it is true, and I have made the Heroic Act pledge for the pool souls relief. Thanks.

  • @ Dan: True enough, souls in Purgatory are bodiless. However, if angels (pure spirits) can interact with matter, why can’t disembodied spirits? In these cases, it seems that God has allowed them to communicate for the edification of the faithful. I am not aware of any such phenomenon that the Church has formally approved. But many miracles are related in the lives of the saints that the Church has not bothered to investigate formally.

  • Kathleen Nurt

    This is facinating. At first I wondered if it were demonic entities posing as these people but then it occured to me that they would not request masses to be said for them. The story of the one man’s conversion and organizing the pious laity congregation is also persuasive and that he died in the oudor of sactity. Is he a Blessed or a Saint? Is there a sense of holiness in this museum? I have felt a strong sense of holiness at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Cloisters Museum in the Bronx in NYC where there is a large collection of holy artifacts such as reliqueries, altar pieces, crucifexes, and devotionals.

  • this is very interesting How could the dead come back and leave signs in the bible its states For the living know that they will die,
    but the dead know nothing;
    they have no further reward,
    and even the memory of them is forgotten.

    6 Their love, their hate
    and their jealousy have long since vanished;
    never again will they have a part
    in anything that happens under the sun

    the dead never come back to the living world they have no knowledge of it anymore there only in the spirtual world heaven or purgatory or the other bad place.

  • Dear Claudia,

    The error you advance has been condemned by the true Church. The following article refutes the idea that the dead who die in Christ have no interest in, or knowledge of, the living:

  • De in het Museo del Purgatorio tentoongestelde voorwerpen kunnen ofwel als een objectieve werkelijkheid ofwel als een subjectieve “wishfull thinking” worden geïnterpreteerd.
    Abstractie makend van elk dogmatisme is in dit geval niet het tentoongestelde voorwerp dat relevant is maar wel het ervaringsstandpunt dat de bezoeker van het Museo t.o.v. van een tentoongesteld voorwerp kan innemen.
    De afstand tussen het voorwerp en de interpretatie van dit voorwerp
    is dikwijls groot en daarom moeten wij dat laatste ook als een “andere” werkelijkheid aanzien.

  • I  believe that souls can communicate in the land of the living. God is great and He can do anything He wants when He wants and to who He wants. Even bring the dead from Purgatory.

  • Why does the Catholic Church always think they’re the “True Church”? It’s not about what sect your in, its about your relationship with God through Christ. There’s no need to brings oneself above another through labels. We’re all in this fight together.

  • Isaiah 53:5
    declares, “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed
    for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him,
    and by His wounds we are healed.” Jesus suffered for our sins so that we
    could be delivered from suffering. To say that we must also suffer for
    our sins is to say that Jesus’ suffering was insufficient. To say that
    we must atone for our sins by cleansing in Purgatory is to deny the
    sufficiency of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus (1 John 2:2). The idea that we have to suffer for our sins after death is contrary to everything the Bible says about salvation.

  • Joel,

    Please see here some arguments for Purgatory:

    Thank you.

  • Joel,

    It’s not a matter of “labels”; it’s a matter of being united to Jesus Christ through his Mystical Body, the Church. That Church is the Catholic Church.

  • Nighterror

    As Brother Andre’ says, the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Jesus. It has never changed nor made itself a sect. Its History, Tradition and Teachings have been consistent for 2,000 years. 

  • Chappy2506

    You can twist the words if you choose to, but the bible tells us that all sins can be forgiven and that God is mercifull, so therefore hell, a place of ETERNAL suffering cannot coexist with this belief. I can accept though that a place like Purgatory can exist, where this forgiveness can be granted. But these “relics” are clearly fake. The handprint is not even anatomically correct.

  • Astrid

    Sins can indeed be forgiven when forgiveness is asked for. Otherwise … they won’t be. The gift of free will, which most Protestant sects deny, is the key to believing in hell. Those in hell exercized their free will and disobeyed God, and once they die in that state, everything good is taken from them, and they go to Hell, where there is no love, nor repentance – only wrath and regret. Disobedience to God, Who is infinitely good and perfect, justly deserves an infinite and perfect punishment, does it not?

    Why should an imprint of a hand made by a soul in Purgatory be as anatomically correct as a Michelangelo to be believable? Maybe God prefers medieval art to the Renaissance because it’s more humble.

  • Diane

    because The Catholic Church is the only church that Jesus Christ Himself founded.  On this Rock I will build My Church…Catholic Church…He asked Peter to feed his sheep…Peter 1st Pope!  Do some research to find out the years the other churches were founded ( and their founders- like Luther’s breakaway from the Catholic Church- the beginning of all Protestant churches)  or go to Rome to see for yourself!  Look at history.  God bless us all!

  • mbm

    Fascinating, frightening. Teaching of purgatory is omitted in Catholic schools, CCD today. My 4 children know of it only thru us; also to pray for or ‘offer it up’ for the poor souls. After our 5th trip to Gettysburg and the battlefield, and having our own odd experiences and hearing of many ‘ghost stories’, we have wondered how the concept of ‘ghost’ could be consistent with Catholic teachings and a loving God. I now wonder, if at least some of these spirits that many claim to see are in fact souls in purgatory, reaching out for prayer? I wonder too, if it’s possible for ‘part’ of a soul to be left behind, in a place of great emotional & physical trauma, sort of an ‘energy imprint’ of spirit. We are after all, energy, which does not disappear but changes form.

  • So we either are pure and go to heaven or not and go to hell. We are not pure therefor we are all destined to eternal damnation? We must be purified to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We must pay the price for our sins. This the place to pay. Get a real Bible, not a Bible missing books. Reformed Bible for example King James Version is missing books.

  • Proteios

    I like it. Lets pick the most convenient beliefs and just work with those. It makes things so much easier and absolves me from so much responsibility. Sign me up for your news,enter, so I know which teachings I can ignore.

  • Proteios

    I hear wht you are saying, and its nice, but I think it trivializes our witness to Christ. Jesus Christ asks a lot of us. We know we fall short and need to repent and amend that. Imagine showing no desire to do so because of the crucifixion. These are the casual Christians of today, who don’t feel they need to really do anything for tracking what you say to its extreme conclusion. Not that you are necessarily attempting to be extreme, I am thinking of those who feel worship is in your heart, God want you to do whatever, etc.

  • Proteios

    Good question. But Christian, Buddhist, pagan and whatever else all share experiences of this nature, so something is going on. This isn’t isolated to Catholics although we think about it a specific way. Also, being Catholic don’t pull a sola scriptura on me.

  • Michael Speyrer

    Because God is loving he can’t force himself on us, that would violate the greatest gift he ever gave us, which in the words of Genesis, makes us “in his own image and likeness.”. Without freewill man can not choose to love God. That is his greatest ability as a person. A person who sets their will diametrically opposed to the goodness, truth, and love of the order God has created and yet will automatically be forced to be with God against their will makes no sense. That would negate the whole purpose of his existence. God IS merciful but mercy must be received not forced. Jesus says an interesting thing in the Gospel of Luke when asked by scribes about a woman who dies after having been married seven times. “Who’s wife will she be?” “In heaven man will neither marry nor be given in marriage but be like the angels.” The angels, who exist outside of the created order we exist in are given no reprieve from willing against God because they exist in an ever present now. The fallen angels can never repent because they live in the eternal now which is the domain of God. When their free will was tested they either passed or failed, because once a one, be it man or angel comes into the full experience of God, there is no more accepting or rejecting possible. Even the angels were given this test because no one can love God against their free will. We experience reality one moment to the next without perfect clarity of the full gravity of our choices, unlike the angels who’s powers of understanding and well are above man’s. When a human being dies however, they enter into the same frame of time as the angels. There is no repentance possible at that point, because like the angels they exist in the eternal now and come to God in his totality. Those who have spent their lives and wills setting up an order unto themselves and the world around them being shaped into their own image and likeness instead of his, reject his reality as a product of their own willing it. “Fly from here to the place prepared for the Devil and his angels from the foundation of the world, to the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

  • Amazing!