Poor Souls in Purgatory

St. Lidwina of Schiedam’s Vision of Purgatory

St. Lidwina was born at Schiedam, Holland, on April 18th, 1380; and died on April 14th, 1433. Her father came of a noble family while her mother was a poor country girl. Both were poor. Very early in her life St. Lidwina was drawn towards the Mother of God and prayed a great deal before the miraculous image of Our Lady of Schiedam.

During the winter of the year of 1395, Lidwina went skating with her friends, one of whom caused her to fall upon some ice with such violence that she broke a rib in her right side. This was the beginning of her martyrdom. No medical skill availed to cure her. Gangrene appeared in the wound caused by the fall and spread over her entire body.

An authenticating document from the town officials of Schiedam, her hometown, attests that Lidwina shed skin, bones, parts of her intestines, which her parents kept in a vase and which gave off a sweet odor. These excited so much attention that Lidwina had her mother bury them.

This document (which has survived) also attests to her complete lack of food and sleep. At first she ate a little piece of apple, then a bit of date and watered wine, then river water contaminated with salt from the tides. For years she lay in pain which seemed to increase constantly.

Some looked on her with suspicion, as being under the influence of the evil spirit. Her pastor, Andries, brought her an unconsecrated host, but the saint distinguished it at once. But God rewarded her with a wonderful gift of prayer and also with visions. After her fall, Lidwina fasted continuously and acquired fame as a healer and holy woman. Numerous miracles took place at her bed-side.

St.Lidwina’s Vision of Purgatory

St.Lidwina was conducted by her angel-guardian into the mysterious regions of Purgatory. There she saw dwellings, prisons, diver’s dungeons, one more dismal than the other; she met, too, souls that she knew, and she was shown their various punishments.

It may be asked, “What was the nature of those ecstatic journeys? “and it is difficult to explain; but we may conclude from certain other circumstances that there was more reality in them than we might be led to believe. The holy invalid made similar journeys and pilgrimages upon earth, to the holy places in Palestine, to the churches of Rome, and to monasteries in the vicinity. She had an exact knowledge of the places which she had thus traversed. A Religious of the monastery of St. Elizabeth, conversing one day with her, and speaking of the cells, of the chapter-room, of the refectory, of his community, she gave him as exact and detailed a description of his house as though she had passed her life there. The Religious having expressed his surprise, “Know, Father”  said she,“ that I have been through your monastery ; I have visited the cells, I have seen the angel-guardians of all those who occupy them.

“One of the journeys which our saint made to Purgatory occurred as follows : An unfortunate sinner, entangled in the corruptions of the world, Wcis finally converted. Thanks to the prayers and urgent exhortations of Lidwina, he made a sincere confession of all his sins and received absolution, but had little time to practice penance, for shortly after he died of the plague.

The saint offered up many prayers and sufferings for his soul; and some time afterwards, having been taken by her angel-guardian into Purgatory, she desired to know if he was still there, and in what condition. “ He is there, “said her angel, “ and he suffers much. Would you be willing to endure some pain in order to diminish his ? “Certainly, “she replied, I am ready to suffer anything to assist him. “Instantly her angel conducted her into a place of frightful torture. “Is this, then, Hell, my brother? “asked the holy maiden, seized with horror. “No, sister, “answered the angel, “but this part of Purgatory is bordering upon Hell. “Looking around on all sides, she saw what resembled an immense prison, surrounded with walls of a prodigious height, the blackness of which, together with the monstrous stones, inspired her with horror. Approaching this dismal enclosure, she heard a confused noise of lamenting voices, cries of fury, chains, instruments of torture, violent blows which the executioners discharged upon their victims. This noise was such that all the tumult of the world, in tempest or battle, could bear no comparison to it.“ What, then, is that horrible place? “ asked St. Lidwina of her good angel. “Do you wish me to show it to you? “No, I beseech you,” said she, recoiling with terror;“ the noise which I hear is so frightful that I can no longer bear it; how, then, could I endure the sight of those horrors ?”Continuing her mysterious route, she saw an angel seated sadly on the curb of a well. “Who is that angel ? “ she asked of her guide.“ It is, “he replied, “the angel-guardian of the sinner in whose lot you are interested. His soul is in this well, where it has a special Purgatory.” At these words, Lidwina cast an inquiring glance at her angel ; she desired to see that soul which was dear to her, and endeavor to release it from that frightful pit. Her angel, who understood her, having taken off the cover of the well, a cloud of flames, together with the most plaintive cries, came forth. “Do you recognize that voice? “Said the angel to her. Alas! Yes, “answered the servant of God. “ Do you desire to see that soul? He continued. On her replying in the affirmative, he called him by his name; and immediately our virgin saw appear at the mouth of the pit a spirit all on fire, resembling incandescent metal, which said to her in a voice scarcely audible, “ O Lidwina, servant of God, who will give me to contemplate the face of the Most High ? “The sight of this soul, a prey to the most terrible torment of fire, gave our saint such a shock that the cincture which she wore around her body was rent in twain ; and, no longer able to endure the sight, she awoke suddenly from her ecstasy.

The persons present, perceiving her fear, asked her its cause. “Alas!” she replied, “how frightful are the prisons of Purgatory! It was to assist the souls that I consented to descend thither. Without this motive, if the whole world were given to me, I would not undergo the terror which that horrible spectacle inspired.

“Some days later, the same angel whom she had seen so dejected appeared to her with a joyful countenance; he told her that the soul of his protégé had left the pit an passed into the ordinary Purgatory. This partial alleviation did not suffice the charity of Lidwina; she continued to pray for the poor patient, and to apply to him the merits of her sufferings, until she saw the gates of Heaven opened to him.

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