Fr John Flader: evidence for life after death from purgatory and hell

Detail from the tympanum of the central west doors of Notre Dame de Paris. Photo: Fr Lawrence Lew OP
Detail from the tympanum of the central west doors of Notre Dame de Paris. Photo: Fr Lawrence Lew OP

Question: Dear Father, You said in a recent column that you were going to offer more evidence for life after death, besides Our Lady’s fulfilled prophecy at Fatima, near-death experiences in which someone met people in the next life, and the fact that the soul, being spiritual, must necessarily live on when the body dies. What are these other types of evidence?

There are documented cases of people from purgatory and hell – yes hell – appearing on earth in ways that can only be explained if these people were really in a state of life after death.

Let us begin with apparitions of souls in purgatory. Even though there are books and books relating them, I will use only Hungry Souls (TAN Books, Charlotte 2012) by Dutch psychotherapist Gerard van den Aardweg.

In the church of the Sacred Heart of Suffrage near the Vatican in Rome there are exhibits of ten artifacts related to appearances of souls in purgatory, all of them involving burn marks.

In one there is a clearly visible burn mark of the right hand of a Benedictine choir sister named Clara Schoelers, who had died of the plague in 1637 and appeared to Maria Herendorps, a lay sister in the Benedictine monastery of Vinenberg, near Warendorf, Germany, on 13 October 1696.

The burn mark of the hand is on Herendorps’ apron and there are imprints of both hands on a piece of linen. Schoelers had been in purgatory for 59 years.

Another burn mark left by a soul in purgatory is in the shrine of the Black Madonna in Czestochowa, Poland. Kept there since the 19th Century is a corporal, the square linen cloth over which the Body and Blood are consecrated in Mass, with the mark of a hand burned through several layers of the folded cloth.

It seems that two priests of the Pauline Fathers, who look after the shrine, had promised each other that the one who died first would give the other some sign of life after death. One of them had been dead for a long time without sending any sign and the other was thinking this very thought at the end of Mass one day as he was folding the corporal into the customary nine layers.

Doubt came over him as to whether there really was life after death when suddenly a burning hand appeared and scorched the corporal, leaving burn marks on many layers of the cloth. The hand then disappeared.

There is no way to explain the burn marks of a human hand produced in such a remarkable way except by acknowledging that the person whose hand it was had come from life beyond the grave. And of course that the person was somehow on fire.

In virtually all such apparitions the person lets it be known that he or she is in purgatory. These accounts are attested to by reliable witnesses and are authenticated by Church authorities only after careful examination.

Apparitions from souls in hell are far less common but they, too, exist. Van den Aardweg relates two such apparitions taken from the book Hell written by Mons de Ségur, Bishop of Saint-Denis (Paris) in 1876. The first one involved someone from Bishop de Ségur’s own family and it took place in Moscow a short time before the bitter campaign of 1812.

De Ségur’s maternal grandfather, Count Rostopchine, Military Governor of Moscow, was a close friend of General Count Orloff, a convinced atheist. One day, after a big meal and many drinks, Count Orloff and one of his friends, General V, also an atheist, began ridiculing religion and especially hell. When Count Orloff suggested the possibility of life after death, General V proposed that whichever of them died first would come back and give word of it to the other. This was readily accepted by Orloff.

Some weeks later General V was sent to the front to do battle with Napoleon’s army. He had been gone two or three weeks when suddenly early one morning Count Orloff burst into Count Rostopchine’s room in his dressing gown visibly disturbed.

He explained that a half hour before he was lying in bed when suddenly the curtains of the bed parted and General V appeared in front of him, standing upright and pale with his hand on his chest.

He said: “There is a hell and I am there!” Then he disappeared. Ten or twelve days later word came to Count Rostopchine that General V had been killed by a bullet through the chest.

It was at the very hour General V appeared to Count Orloff.