Haven’t heard of St. Lidwina of Schiedam? That’s okay – she’s not exactly the most famous saint of the Church. But, boy, did she have quite the vision of Purgatory!
St. Lidwina was a 15th century Dutch mystic. As a teenager, she fell and broke a rib while iceskating and never fully recovered. She devoted the rest of her life to prayer and fasting and became well-known as a holy woman.
A sinful man was converted by her prayers and counsel shortly before his death. She asked her guardian angel what became of him in the next life and was blessed with the incredible vision of Purgatory described below.
Note that, as with all private revelations, her vision is not a part of the deposit of faith and no Catholic is obliged to believe it. It can, however, build up one’s faith in the teachings of the Church.
“An Immense Prison”
“Is this, then, hell, my brother?” St. Lidwina asked the angel upon entering a terrifying place. “No, sister,” the angel answered, “but this part of purgatory is bordering upon hell.”
Here’s what she saw first: “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.”
Then she started hearing dreadful sounds: “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.”
She found the man she was looking for in a dark well. When they removed the cover of the well, “a cloud of flames, together with the most plaintive cries, came forth.” The man looked like “a spirit all on fire, resembling incandescent metal.”
“The sight of this soul, a prey to the most terrible torment of fire,” the account says, “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.”
St. Lidwina committed herself from then on to do penance to aid the man to leave purgatory and make it to heaven.
Here’s the full account of her vision:
“‘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 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 and 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.” (Purgatory, by Fr. F. X. Schouppe, SJ, 16–19).