Burned by the Hands of Souls in Purgatory: A Museum’s Rare Collection

via atlasobscura.com

Housed in the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio on the banks of the Tiber River in Rome, the Museo delle anime del Purgatorio, or Museum of the Souls of Purgatory, only takes up one room and has just one glass case with just a dozen items or so. Yet it is one of the most unique collections anywhere in the world: objects supposedly singed by the fiery hands of souls in purgatory.*

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The history of the museum dates back to 1897 when a fire destroyed a small chapel in the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio. While surveying the damage, the parish priest Fr. Victor Jouët found some burn marks on the wall behind the altar that looked like a human face with a sad expression. Convinced it was a sign left by a soul trapped in purgatory trying to get help from the living, Fr. Jouët was inspired to seek out similar occurrences. His search resulted in the collection of objects and photographs on display today.

The featured objects include books, tabletops, and articles of clothing with burn marks, some of them in the shape of hands. Fr. Jouët apparently died in the one-room museum in 1912, and nothing has been added to it since. You can find a transcription of a handout with descriptions of the objects provided in the museum here.

Have these objects really been burned by souls in purgatory? The Catholic Church doesn’t have an official answer either way. But take a look at these pictures and judge for yourself:

Part of the glass case:

via atlasobscura.com
via atlasobscura.com

Here are some items up close:

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via atlasobscura.com
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The Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio which houses the museum is beautiful and worth visiting in its own right. Here is what it looks like on the outside:

Alessandro Grussu / Flickr
Alessandro Grussu / Flickr

And here’s what it looks like on the inside:

Alessandro Grussu / Flickr
Alessandro Grussu / Flickr

*End Note: What is Purgatory?

The Catholic Church teaches that a soul will go to one of three places upon death: hell, heaven, or purgatory. The first two places are permanent. Once you get to heaven or hell, there is no getting out.

Purgatory, on the other hand, is temporary. It is a state for those who die in Christ, and so are assured of heaven, but who aren’t entirely purified of their attachments to sin. Purgatory is a place of painful purging (hence the name) of attachment to sin with the grace of Jesus, after which the soul enters heaven. Catholics are called to pray for souls in purgatory to lessen their suffering and get them to heaven faster.

The doctrine of purgatory, while controversial among some Christians, comes from the Bible and dates back to the early Church.

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