Purgatory Explained, Part 1, Chapter 20

1890 engraving of Saint Lydwina of SchiedamArticle

Diversity of the Pains – King Sancho and Queen Guda – Saint Lidwina and the Soul Transpierced – Blessed Margaret Mary and the Bed of Fire

According to the saints, there is great diversity in the corporal pains of Purgatory. Although fire is the principal instrument of torture, there is also the torment of cold, the torture of the members, and the torture applied to the different senses of the human body. This diversity of suffering seems to correspond to the nature of the sins, each one of which demands its own punishment, according to these words: Quia per quce peccat quis, per hcec et torquetur – “By what things a man sins, by the same also is he tormented.” (Wisdom 11:17). It is just that it should be so with regard to the chastisement, since the same diversity exists in the distribution of the reward. In Heaven each one receives according to his works, and, as Venerable Bede says, each one receives his crown, his robe of glory. For the martyr this robe is of a rich purple color, whilst that of the confessor has the brilliancy of a dazzling whiteness.

The historian John Vasquez, in his chronicle of the year 940, relates how Sancho, King of Leon, appeared to Queen Guda, and by the piety of this princess was delivered from Purgatory. Sancho, who had led a truly Christian life, was poisoned by one of his subjects. After his death, Queen Guda passed her time in praying and causing prayers to be offered for the repose of his soul. Not content with having a great number of Masses offered for his release, in order that she might weep and pray near the dear remains, she took the veil in the convent of Castile, where the body of her husband had been deposited. One Saturday, whilst praying at the feet of the Blessed Virgin, and recommending to her the soul of her departed husband, Sancho appeared to her; but in what condition! Great God! he was clad in garments of mourning and wore a double row of red-hot chains around his waist. Having thanked his pious widow for her suffrages, he conjured her to continue her work of charity. “Ah! if you knew, Guda, what I suffer,” said he to her, “you would do still more. By the bowels of Divine Mercy, I conjure you, help me, dear Guda; help me, for I am devoured by these flames.”

The Queen redoubled her prayers and good works; she distributed alms among the poor, caused Masses to be celebrated in all parts of the country, and gave to the convent a magnificent ornament for use on the altar.

At the end of forty days the King again appeared. He had been relieved of the burning cincture and of all his other sufferings. In place of his robes of mourning, he wore a mantle of dazzling whiteness, like the sacred ornament which Guda had given to the convent. “Behold me, dear Guda,” said he, “thanks to your prayers, delivered from all my sufferings. May you be forever blessed. Persevere in your holy exercise; often meditate upon the severity of the pains of the other life, and upon the joys of Paradise, whither I go to await you.” With these words he disappeared, leaving the pious Guda overflowing with consolation.

One day a woman, quite disconsolate, went to tell Saint Lidwina that she had lost her brother. “My brother has just died,” she said, “and I come to recommend his poor soul to your charity. Offer to God for him some prayers and a part of the sufferings occasioned by your malady.” The holy patient promised her to do so, and some time after, in one of her frequent ecstasies, she was conducted by her angel guardian into the subterranean dungeons, where she saw with extreme compassion the torments of the poor souls plunged in flames. One of them in particular attracted her attention. She saw her transpierced by iron pins. Her angel told her that it was the deceased brother of that woman who had asked her prayers. “If you wish,” he added, “to ask any grace in his favor, it will not be refused to you.” “I ask then,” she replied, “that he may be delivered from those horrible irons that transpierce him” Immediately she saw them drawn from the poor sufferer, who was then taken from this special prison and placed in the one occupied by those souls that had not incurred any particular torment. The sister of the deceased returning shortly after to Saint Lidwina, the latter made known to her the condition of her brother, and advised her to assist him by multiplying her prayers and alms for the repose of his soul. She herself offered to God her supplications and sufferings, until finally he was delivered. (Vie de Sainte Lidvine).

We read of the Life of Blessed Margaret Mary that a soul was tortured in a bed of torments on account of her indolence during life; at the same time she was subjected to a particular torture in her heart, on account of certain wicked sentiments, and in her tongue, in punishment of her uncharitable words. Moreover, she had to endure a frightful pain of an entirely different nature, caused neither by fire nor iron, but by the sight of a condemned soul. Let us see how the Blessed Margaret describes it in her writings.

“I saw in a dream,” she says, “one of our sisters who had died some time previous. She told me that she suffered much in Purgatory, but that God had inflicted upon her a suffering which surpassed all other pains, by showing her one of her near relatives precipitated into Hell.

“At these words I awoke, and felt as though my body was bruised from head to foot, so that it was with difficulty I could move. As we should not believe in dreams, I paid little attention to this one, but the Religious obliged me to do so in spite of myself. From that moment she gave me no rest, and said to me incessantly, ‘Pray to God for me; offer to Him your sufferings united to those of Jesus Christ, to alleviate mine; and give me all you shall do until the first Friday in May, when you will please communicate for me.’ This I did, with permission of my superior.

“Meanwhile the pain which this suffering soul caused me increased to such a degree that I could find neither comfort nor repose. Obedience obliged me to seek a little rest upon my bed; but scarcely had I retired when she seemed to approach me, saying, ‘You recline at your ease upon your bed; look at the one upon which I lie, and where I endure intolerable sufferings.’ I saw that bed, and the very thought of it makes me shudder. The top and bottom was of sharp flaming points which pierced the flesh. She told me then that this was on account of her sloth and negligence in the observance of the rules. ‘My heart is torn,’ she continued, ‘and causes me the most terrible sufferings for my thoughts of disapproval and criticism of my superiors. My tongue is devoured by vermin, and, as it were, torn from my mouth continually, for the words I spoke against charity and my little regard for the rule of silence. Ah! would that all souls consecrated to God could see me in these torments. If I could show them what is prepared for those who live negligently in their vocation, their zeal and fervor would be entirely renewed, and they would avoid those faults which now cause me to suffer so much.’

“At this sight I melted into tears. ‘Alas!’ said she, ‘one day passed by the whole community in exact observance would heal my parched mouth; another passed in the practice of holy charity would cure my tongue; and a third passed without any murmuring or disapproval of superiors would heal my bruised heart; but no one thinks to relieve me.’

“After I had offered the Communion which she had asked of me, she said that her dreadful torments were much diminished, but she had still to remain a long time in Purgatory, condemned to suffer the pains due to those souls that have been tepid in the service of God. As for myself,” adds Blessed Margaret Mary, “I found that I was freed from my sufferings, which I had been told would not diminish until the soul herself should be relieved.” (Languet, Vie de la B. Marguerite) .

MLA Citation