Purgatory Explained, Part 1, Chapter 14

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Pains of Purgatory – Apparition of Foligno – The Dominican Religious of Zamora

The same rigor reveals itself in a more recent apparition, where a Religious who died after an exemplary life makes known her sufferings in a manner calculated to inspire all souls with terror. The event took place on 16 November 1859 at Foligno, near Assisi, in Italy. It made a great noise in the country, and besides the visible mark which was seen, an inquiry made in due form by competent authority establishes it as an incontestable fact.

There was at the convent of Franciscan Tertiaries in Foligno, a sister named Teresa Gesta, who had been for many years mistress of novices, and who at the same time had charge of the sacristy of the community. She was born at Bastia, in Corsica, in 1797, and entered the monastery in the year 1826.

Sister Teresa was a model of fervor and charity. We need not be astonished, said her director, if God glorifies her by some prodigy after her death.

She died suddenly, 4 November 1859, of a stroke of apoplexy.

Twelve days later, on 16 November, a sister named Anna Felicia, who succeeded her in office, went to the sacristy and was about to enter, when she heard moans which appeared to come from the interior of the room. Somewhat afraid, she hastened to open the door; there was no one. Again she heard moans, and so distinctly that, notwithstanding her ordinary courage, she felt herself overpowered by fear. “Jesus! Mary!” she cried, “what can that be?” She had not finished speaking when she heard a plaintive voice, accompanied with a painful sigh, “Oh! my God, how I suffer! Oh! Dio, che peno tanto!” The sister, stupefied, immediately recognized the voice of poor Sister Teresa. Then the room was filled with a thick smoke, and the spirit of Sister Teresa appeared, moving towards the door, and gliding along by the wall. Having reached the door, she cried aloud, “Behold a proof of the mercy of God. ” Saying these words, she struck the upper panel of the door, and there left the print of her right hand, burnt in the wood as with a red-hot iron. She then disappeared.

Sister Anna Felicia was left half dead with fright. She burst forth into loud cries for help. One of her companions ran, then a second, and finally the whole community. They pressed around her, astonished to find a strong odor of burnt wood. Sister Anna Felicia told what had occurred, and showed them the terrible impression on the door. They instantly recognized the hand of Sister Teresa, which had been remarkably small. Terrified, they took to flight and ran to the choir, where they passed the night in prayer and penance for the departed, and the following morning all received Holy Communion for the repose of her soul. The news spread outside the convent walls, and many communities in the city united their prayers with those of the Franciscans. On the third day, 18 November, Sister Anna Felicia, on going in the evening to her cell, heard herself called by her name, and recognized perfectly the voice of Sister Teresa. At the same instant a globe or brilliant light appeared before her, illuminating her cell with the brightness of daylight. She then heard Sister Teresa pronounce these words in a joyful and triumphant voice: “I died on a Friday, the day of the Passion, and behold, on a Friday, I enter into eternal glory! Be strong to bear the cross, be courageous to suffer, love poverty.” Then adding, affectionately, “Adieu, adieu, adieu!” she became transfigured, and like a light, white, and dazzling cloud, rose towards Heaven and disappeared.

During the investigation which was held immediately, 23 November, in the presence of a large number of witnesses, the tomb of Sister Teresa was opened, and the impression upon the door was found to correspond exactly with the hand of the deceased. “The door, with the burnt print of the hand,” adds Monsignor Segur, “is preserved with great veneration in the convent. The Mother Abbess, witness of the fact, was pleased to show it to me herself.”

Wishing to assure myself of the perfect exactitude of these details related by Monsignor Segur, I wrote to the Bishop of Foligno. He replied by giving me a circumstantial account, perfectly according with the above, and accompanied by a facsimile of the miraculous mark. This narrative explains the cause of the terrible expiation to which Sister Teresa was subjected. After saying, “Ah! how much I suffer! Oh! Dio, che peno tanto!” she added that it was for having, in the exercise of her office of Sacristan, transgressed in some points the strict poverty prescribed by the Rule.

Thus we see Divine Justice punishes most severely the slightest faults. It may here be asked why the apparition, when making the mysterious mark on the door, called it a proof of the mercy of God. It is because, in giving us a warning of this kind, God shows us a great mercy. He urges us, in the most efficacious manner, to assist the poor suffering souls, and to be vigilant in our own regard.

Whilst speaking of this subject, we may relate a similar instance which happened in Spain, and which caused great rumors in that country. Ferdinand of Castile thus relates it in his History of Saint Dominic. (Malvenda, Annal. Ord. Praedic.). A Dominican Religious led a holy life in his convent at Zamora, a city of the kingdom of Leon. He was united in the bonds of a pious friendship with a Franciscan brother like himself, a man of great virtue. One day, when conversing together on the subject of eternity, they mutually promised that, if it pleased God, the first who died should appear to the other to give him some salutary advice. The Friar Minor died first; and one day, whilst his friend, the son of Saint Dominic, was preparing the refectory, he appeared to him. After saluting him with respect and affection, he told him that he was among the elect, but that before he could be admitted to the enjoyment of eternal happiness, there remained much to be suffered for an infinity of small faults of which he had not sufficiently repented during his life. “Nothing on earth,” he added, “can give an idea of the torments which I endure, and of which God permits me to give you a visible proof.” Saying these words, he placed his right hand upon the table of the refectory, and the mark remained impressed upon the charred wood as though it had been applied with a red-hot iron.

Such was the lesson which the fervent deceased Franciscan gave to his living friend. It was of profit not only to him, but to all those who came to see the burnt mark, so profoundly significant; for this table became an object of piety which people came from all parts to look upon. “It is still to be seen at Zamora,” says Father Rossignoli (Mervelles, 28), “at the time at which I write [towards the middle of the last century]; to protect it the spot has been covered with a sheet of copper. ” It was preserved until the end of the last century. Since then it has been destroyed, during the revolutions, like so many other religious memorials.

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