Traces of afterlife: the Museum of the Souls of Purgatory

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On the Lungotevere Prati peeks out a small church with a facade bristling with spiers, the only Roman example of neo-Gothic style: it is the Church of the Sacred Heart of Suffrage (Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio), built between 1894 and 1917 on the project by architect Giuseppe Gualandi. On September, 15th 1897, during the works, a fire broke out in one of the chapels; as soon as the flames were tamed, Father Vittorio Jouet, at the time curator of the sanctuary, noticed that behind the altar the smoke had traced the contours of a sad and suffering face. Jouet saw in the image an attempt – by a soul condemned to Purgatory – to get in touch with the world of the livings. The priest was so struck that he dedicated the rest of his life looking for similar “traces of afterlife” left by purgative souls waiting to reach Paradise. The Museum annexed to the Church collects a dozen of these mysterious (and sometimes disturbing) testimonies – consisting of imprints left on fire on photographs, books, tablets and other everyday objects – accompanied by the story of the deceased and their families. Like that of a certain Mrs. Leleux, who died in Belgium in 1789, who left a fiery imprint on the sleeve of her unruly son to convince him to abandon his dissolute life. Or like that of Margherita Demmerlé, persecuted by her mother-in-law from the afterlife: the woman hastened to make a pilgrimage to bring relief to the soul of the deceased, who thanked her by putting her hand on a book. Whatever the personal attitude towards this collection of “miraculous” events, the museum, is a one-of-a-kind, and certainly deserves a visit.
Museo delle Anime del Purgatorio
Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio
Lungotevere Prati, 12

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