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