THE imprints of hands burned into various objects, all purporting to be signs of visits from the dead, are preserved in the Museum of Purgatory in the Rome church of the Sacred Heart of Suffrage, on Lungotevere Prati, a church especially dedicated to prayer for the Holy Souls.
The museum is not open to the general public and only an occasional enquirer asks to see it, for it is kept locked in a wooden cupboard. Yet it is one of the most unusual collections in a city which abounds in museums.
Altogether, there are about 25 items ranging from prayer books to the sawn out portion of a table top. But all have one feature in common: they hear scorch marks each related to a specific deceased individual, and each associated with a petition for prayers for those suffering in Purgatory.
To see the Museum, apply to the sacristan. You will then be taken to a conference room in the adjoining rectory. and the cabinet will he unlocked for you.
The first item is a piece of wood with the imprint of a hand and a cross burned deep into it. The scorched impression of the hand is not a simple outline. hut shows clearly the creases of the flesh and is burned deepest where the natural pads of the hand are heaviest. This. together with the sleeve of a nun's habit are related to the same incident: On November 1, 1731. the deceased Abbot of Mantova, Fr. Panzini, appeared to Mother Chiara Fornari. Abbess of the Claretians of Todi. The Abbess was ordered by her confessor to cut away the part of her habit and the portion of the wooden table top to give to him for safe keeping.
Another item, a hole burned in a piece of cloth, is said to be that portion of a pillow case touched by the forefinger of another visiting soul. This alleged appari
tion is recorded in the archives of a convent in Perugia where a nun who died in 1894 had been impatient of continuous suffering and had expressed the wish to die.
That same night, she is said to have appeared to another Sister of the Convent and to have said she was in Purgatory where she would have to remain for 20 days to expiate her act of impatience with the will of God.
She asked for prayers and. to prove that she had appeared, placed her index finger on the pillowcase and promised to return. She is said to have appeared again 20 days later to say she had been released from purgatory.
The collection of these unusual items began in 1897 when a fire broke out in a small chapel near this Rome church during which (according to several people present) a face was seen among the flames. Afterwards, an outline of the image was left scorched in the wood of the wall, This piece of wood is also kept in the church hut is kept covered by order of the ecclesiastical authorities.
Fr. low, then rector, and who had been spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart and encouraging his people to pray for the souls in Purgatory, started the little museum. His subsequent travels resulted in the present collection. While priests are reserved about the exhibits. they cadtion visitors not to see more in the items than they represent. private testimony and nothing more, they like to think that some at least are inspired to pray for the souls in Purgatory.