When we had left this third place of purgatory we quickly came to a region where the souls of people who had completed their purgation were joyfully resting. Many of them I knew well. I found them to be in great happiness and comfort, and truly, regarding the joys of this place and the light-heartedness of those who were there, I shall shortly give an account, but first let me return to things that may be told of certain persons in particular whom I saw in the first two places of purgatory.
A man who was the father of a religious house, and whom I knew quite well, had died very recently. He was one of the first souls that I encountered when I approached the first place of purgatory and he was suffering terribly, sometimes in fire and at other times in stinking baths of tar and sulphur mixed together, and he looked awful! As soon as he saw me he called with a weak voice and out of compassion I conversed with him for a while. And I asked him whether he was suffering for the failings of his youth, since he took holy orders at a very young age when one is liable to be negligent.
He told me: 'No, I suffer here for a lifetime of sins and excesses, which are not few in number, but also for the bad governance and irregularities of those to whom I had delegated my duties later in my career. For my own sins I am happy to suffer, though I was careful to confess all that I was aware of and to accept the disciplines and prayers given to me as penance for them, and to try to redeem myself in other ways. But the things that are truly grieving me now stem from the affection that I acquired for my friends and my relatives, some of whom I gave Church offices and duties that were beyond their abilities to discharge, and to others I indiscreetly gave some of the monastery's property as gifts when I was in charge as prior. These people give little thought to me, and truly, the esteem in which I was held and the love and honour that I once enjoyed are worth nothing to me now. Alas, for sorrow, if God does not have mercy upon me this unendurable suffering will last forever! My greed for authority and high honour, and my fear of losing it, so blinded my soul that I did not correct those whom I should have corrected; I sightlessly loosened their bridles and gave them free rein, fearful that if I rebuked and corrected them they might plot to deprive me of office. Worse still, I failed to help or to favour as I should have, those who were devout and had energy and loved their calling. I mixed with their enemies and spoke against them and favoured those who were ill-disposed to the rigours of our order. I allowed them to play idle games and to fill their hours with amusement and to wander among ordinary folk and to fill their minds with secular concerns. And for this reason therefore, because my laxity urged them to speak and conceive some damnable things, I am punished without hope. Although I did not approve of their wickedness, I was aware of it, and through fear that they may plot against me I chose to cloak myself in a vain denial, as a result of which many of them continued to pursue a course that led from evil to war. Even war! Some of them persisted in evil right up to their deaths, while I still lived, and are now damned for evermore. Others persist in their failings still and for them, as for me, the fire is stoked and ready! Since the moment of my death I have been subjected to unspeakable tortures that have grown to such an extent that I would gladly now return to the very first of them. All the sins and wickedness that these people perpetrate at the present time, through a way of life that is a direct result of my own negligence, cause my torment to be continually increased. And because I have known some of those who are now dead, and others still living, who have fallen unrepentantly into that hateful and abominable sin that should not be named, I fear nothing more than that I shall soon have to endure the foul punishment which they shall have to suffer themselves for this sin. I well know that the grievous pain of that choking horror is more intolerable than anything else that sinners may suffer.'
This prior then told me the nature of all the sins that were grieving him, where they had been conceived and who had perpetrated them. He told me all of this: 'For as soon as any evil is done,' he explained, 'by somebody whose moral failings are my own responsibility, these wicked angels of the devil increase my torment.'
It is true that some of the brothers of the monastery of which this man had been prior had been zealous in their observance of religious correctness, had been diligent, hard-working and mindful that the purity and honesty of the order should be kept. I knew this to be true, and so I said to him: 'How is it that just before you died it was commonly agreed, and known far and wide, that the monastery had been set right and had improved?'
He replied: 'You are right that many things are better than they were. But I have no reward or alleviation for this because they are changes that I mostly fought against and tried to stop. I was not proud of the things that were going on, but I was fearful of the shame that would accrue to me if they were to become openly known. And I was persuaded into the opinion that any intervention on my part, unless it was with the direct help of God, would come to nothing anyway. Alas! Why did I ever favour and magnify such people and let them do whatever they liked? There are four of them still living,' and he told me their names, 'who, unless they very quickly do penance for their wicked deeds, shall have the unspeakable and everlasting torments of hell as their reward! Rarely,' he told me, 'could I find the courage to upset these people. More often than not I would let them do as they liked. Their wicked scheming and artfulness infected almost the whole cloister. Few are those in the monastery who have been prepared to perform all the duties and observances, prayers and Masses and psalms for my soul which out of respect to our faith they should have done. Many of those for whom I now suffer have done nothing for me, nothing, and with this and the torments that presently oppress me, I am threatened on every side.'
I recognised also a certain anchoress, a female hermit and religious recluse who had been honest and good and whom I greatly loved. She was quite pretty and had a certain composure about her, although her passage through purgatory had wearied her and the flames had touched and scorched her a little. But she took it all lightly and was making her way quickly towards the joys of Paradise. And when I saw this, as God is my witness, I thought that I must be dreaming, for it seemed impossible that she could be dead. I said to myself: 'I must be imagining this, for surely a woman who is still alive cannot be here!'
I must tell you that the third day after I had regained consciousness in the infirmary, a certain neighbour of this anchoress was visiting the monastery and I asked him to send her my greetings and to ask her to pray for me. And he replied: 'You should pray for her, my good friend, because she has died and passed to God.'
I was greatly taken aback by this and for the first time realised that what I had seen of her in purgatory had been real. And I know for certain that the following is true: that souls who are destined to enjoy the Earthly Paradise before Doomsday suffer less and less torment as time passes from the first hour of their death. But if anyone has left behind, to those who still live, a legacy of sinfulness, that is, if they have unrepentantly influenced others into sin, and if those sins remain, then these souls go from unendurable torment to something even worse, and as their penance increases, so do their pains, so that every day is more grievous to them than the last.
I saw in this place a certain bishop whom I had seen once; he was born in England but his diocese had been overseas. He had died only a few months before, around the time of the feast of the Archangel Michael, and I had been told of his death by the same man who was later to inform me of the death of the anchoress. This man had learned of his passing away from the deceased bishop's cousin, who had been in his service and had now returned to England. When I saw this bishop in purgatory, however, I could not bring the details to mind, my head was so filled with other things, but I saw this bishop engulfed continually in flames. He was being tortured in other ways too, and mostly because of the sins and misdemeanours of his youth, but because there seemed to be something unusual going on, I made a point of speaking to him, for as the flames roared around him he was wearing clothes that seemed to be impregnable; but even more than this, they appeared to grow more perfect as the fire burned and to increase in their fairness and beauty as the flames grew fiercer.
Saint Nicholas revealed to me the reason for this marvel: 'While he lived,' he told me, 'he earned this privilege by a good custom that he never failed to practice. He would always take pity upon people who went in need of clothes and would procure garments for them. And therefore his own clothing shall never fail but shall be impregnable, right up until the time that he has fulfilled his penance and is able to clothe himself in Everlasting Joy.'
A Poor Wife
The wife of a poor man had died at home the previous year, a woman whose good works had been many and whose character had been of the highest quality. We had once been very good friends and I was delighted to see her suffering a very lenient penance, in comparison to many others, and swiftly progressing towards the great rewards of Heavenly Joy. Only in her tendency to tell people off and to rebuke those who had wronged her and to hold her dislike of them for too long in her heart did she offend, and for this she had suffered. The fault had been so much a part of her that she had found herself unable to correct it, although often she would weep at her inability to improve the way she was. Because of this contrition, forgiveness had come sooner to her than it might otherwise have done, for she had been devout in her prayers and generous in giving alms to those who were needy, even when she could scarcely afford to do so without going hungry herself. And before her death, following a long illness, her heart and soul had been so cleansed, like gold in a furnace, that she had, for the most part, polished off all the roughness and abrasion of her sins.
The following must be made clear: that it is necessary in this Earthly world, where almost everyone has strayed from the clean simplicity and innocence of the Church of God, for a person to maintain or recapture the purity that is exemplified by the holy gospels, because until one achieves this, one may not live in heavenly places nor find rest upon the Hill of Joy. And it is for this reason that, whatever the sins that cling to a soul when it dies, they must be purged in another world; for by this cleansing and penance is the path to joyful rest made possible, and once a soul has achieved these restful places, the entries to heaven and to Everlasting Joy are open to it, through the perfect desire that a soul now has to see God.
At least, this is the case for sins which are not excessive or have been lessened by confession and penance that has already been done here on Earth. But touching the sins that are deadly and have not been absolved by the remedy of confession and penance on Earth, it is certain that the soul shall be presented at the Day of Judgment in the exact and sinful state that it was in when it first passed out of this world.
I saw many religious folk in purgatory, both men and women, those who had been priests and monks, nuns and abbots, suffering torment as much for little sins as for great; and grievous, it seemed to me, were the pains that they suffered even for small offences such as uncontrolled laughing or spreading gossip, or letting their thoughts dwell too long upon the vanities of life, or for minor breaches of the rules of their order, such as using extravagant gestures or signing too much or wandering about the cloister away from their cells to no purpose. I saw some weeping miserably while rolling hot coals about in their mouths for eating fruit and herbs for pleasure and not as medicine. For immoderate laughter they were beaten; for gossip, they received whiplashes to the face, for every penance was suited to its sin. And those who had been prone to extravagant gesturing were bound with shackles, and for signing to too idle a purpose, some of them had their fingers badly bruised or cut. Those who had been prone to wandering to and fro about the cloisters were thrown heavily about from place to place, breaking their arms and their legs. Those who swore profanely or told coarse and dirty jokes, or otherwise sinned against the honesty of their religion, were punished almost as terribly as those who had committed deadly sins. And anyone who broke a vow to God, or to one of his holy saints, suffered extreme and indescribable tortures.
A Young Knight
Among those who had broken his vows I saw a young knight, whom I had once known quite well. He was burning in the middle of a fire and when I enquired why he had been given such a dreadful punishment he explained: 'The life that I lived was vain and debauched. I took no heed of my betters but lived in foolish pride and lechery. But I am punished here especially because I cast away the holy cross that I had received in a vow to go to the Holy Land. I took it up, not out of any devotion to Christ but out of vanity and only to boost my standing in the eyes of my lord. So now, every night, I try to make as much progress as I can towards Jerusalem. But weakness and bad weather and rough terrain so hinders my ghost that I can scarcely go more than a fraction of a day's journey. And when morning comes, I am beset by the wickedest and maddest of cruel spirits who drag me once again to this place of torment where I have to spend all day in agony in a fire. Only very slowly does the pain lessen with each return. For every evening I am restored to the place where I had been early that morning, and so I go forth on my pilgrimage; and when morning comes once again I am drawn back into this fire. And all those who, like me, have vowed to go to the Holy Land and then thrown the cross away and not gone, they will be compelled to take this same journey that I take, if they have the fortune and the grace of God to be able to repent, and by confession to reduce a deadly sin into a venial one. For otherwise the breaking of such a vow will result in eternal damnation!
An Old Knight
There was another knight there who had died about ten years before. When I saw him he had suffered nearly all that he had had to and for this reason I say that he must have died well, for he was near the point at which Paradise seemed to be not so far away. On his forearm he supported, with a clenched fist, a little bird like a sparrowhawk. During his life he had been the most notable in his district for offering alms to the poor and hospitality to those who needed it. His wife had died almost thirty years before him, and since then he had lived the chaste life of a widower, content with his lot and benevolent to all men whilst he lived. I was surprised to find such a man still awaiting his full rest and happiness. But he told me that it was not so greatly to be marvelled at because when he had been alive he had committed many small sins, particularly in his youth. He had been introduced through a noble upbringing to many things that would require penance, since the customs of the time and of his rank had drawn him to them. He complained that the hawk, which he held on his arm, tore at his hand with her beak and with her sharp claws, and that he suffered unrelenting pain from this, he said, because he had taken from the sport too great a delight, when watching the hawks flying and taking other birds. He had enjoyed hawking all his life, right up to his death, because he had not considered that it might be a sin.
I saw many other things in this first place of purgatory, and saw those whom I knew and those who were strangers to me, men and women, of all degrees and professions, suffering all sorts of punishment and every kind of grievous pain and torment, as I have described. And this is only a small sample of what I could have recounted.
But I will now say something about the second place of purgatory and what I saw there. And truly, I can honestly tell you that I recognised more people in this place than in any other, more people that I had once known, I mean, and they were weeping bitterly for the pain and torture they were suffering for their sins; for by breaking Our Lord's commandments they had alienated themselves from Him.
I found three bishops whom I had once known well, shackled in hot irons, alternating miserably from the great fire to the sudden icy storms of hail and snow and swirling winds and then back into the foul stagnant water of the lake. They were suffering a diversity of punishments, not far from one another.
One of them was in greater agony than the others and this was because he used to sit amongst the secular judges when pleading took place, and he derived a great pleasure from oppressing those who pleaded their case on the grounds of good conscience. And for this reason his tongue burned continually in flames of fire, and as he burned, and then as he was soaked in rain and hail and frozen like a stiff board in the ice and snow, and then immersed in the stinking lake and covered in filth and mire, his tongue continued to burn all the time.
Another of them had been negligent in maintaining his chastity, which in a bishop is abominable and disgraceful. He was drowned many times in the foul and stinking lake that lay between the great heat and the great cold. But before his death he had left the honour and dignity of his high position in the Church and taken the simple habit of a monk, which had helped him greatly, among other penances that he took. All who do this shall receive great profit from it, for they shall be helped by the merit and the prayers of the holy saints who once wore this same habit, and moreover, it is known that they shall rise up again on the Day of Judgment wearing the habit of the order with which they have forsaken this world and given their devotion to, during their final days on Earth.
The third of these bishops had delighted in pompous ostentation and for this he was often thrown into the air on the point of a jet of flame! And because he fell from the love of God into a world of intrigue and cold-blooded calculation, the flame dropped him onto the frozen shore of the lake where the grievous cold then fully quenched his burning. And these bishops were each in a similar plight because they had all been attracted to worldly affairs and had failed to pay proper regard to the souls under their care, reserving all their attention for the rich, to princes and to close relatives and caring nothing for the poor and, to be blunt, looked after themselves and payed scant regard to the teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And this sin, I must say, was held in common by all the high-ranking Churchmen I saw here; a general negligence concerning the duties of their office. They had developed a love of being looked up to and of being bestowed with honour, and they suffered because they misused the power that they had been given under God, to the damage of themselves and to the spiritual ruin of their flock. And therefore the great torment that these prelates suffered was daily increased, as I have already described concerning the prior, so that whatever their friends in the world did for their souls in the way of almsgiving, prayers and Masses for the dead – and other such things that should have lessened their pains – daily their grievous torments increased, because of the sins that were now being done by those whose souls had been under their care while they lived. And for this same reason, all those who suffer in this way are fearful for their ultimate salvation and this terrifies them! Truly, nothing is so dreadful than the uncertainty of not knowing whether one will eventually achieve salvation. And there is nothing that makes more tolerable the suffering of any penance than a knowledge that, through the mercy of Our Lord, one will attain ultimate deliverance in the end. The certainty of knowing that one will attain Eternal Joy is a great comfort. And the agony of unknowing is the greatest torment that I came across in those whose ultimate redemption was in doubt, and far exceeded the misery of the other tortures that they were suffering.
An Archbishop of Canterbury
I also came across a certain person whose name will be familiar to many and who had been taken from a life of monastic contemplation, where he had been very devout in the observation of bodily penance and meditation and many other excellent virtues, and was then promoted to the office of Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of all England. But alas, the more his stature had grown in the sight of the people, the less it grew in the sight of God. His life would have ended sooner had it not been for God's mercy and for the merits of his previous occupation as a monk, which had been exemplary. As Archbishop of Canterbury he had been very learned but had taken little care of the spiritual well-being of his congregation. He unwisely promoted the unworthy to high office and, presumably through the knowledge that he owed his position to the monarch, had allowed a fear of displeasing King Henry II to colour the decisions that he made regarding the law. He also indulged a deceitful spite against those who had been against his appointment in the first place. In these and in many other things he had offended.
He is to be blamed also in this regard: that he concealed and kept hidden the wisdom and knowledge offered to him by those whose advice he should have acted upon. All those who do this are destined for great torment! Such people are a hindrance to the Church of God. By failing to act upon good advice or to let this advice be known, they fail to pluck up and destroy the wicked ways being sown in the hearts of people whose spiritual well-being is in their care. They fail to plant in the souls of their congregation the virtues of nobility and honesty that only someone with their training, their depth of holiness and degree of religious understanding can do! Christ does not wish to promote those with little knowledge or understanding to high office, but no more does he want to promote those who do have these gifts but who use them to no good effect, but only to the detriment of themselves and to those whom their greater intellect should have sought to protect.
Also, the open fornication that priests and clerics indulge in nowadays. Bishops put their souls in great peril when they fail to correct such sinful living! It is a grievous injury to the heavenly sacraments of Holy Church, for in these blessed sacraments is contained the life and help of all Christian people, people who will commit sin if these sacraments are allowed to become polluted.
Of the negligence of deans, archdeacons and other officers of the Church I saw many things which I do not now have the time to speak of, but through their deceit and corruption, through bribes and dishonest promotions, Christendom is almost brought to its knees! This is clearly shown for all to see, by the conduct of those who are alive now, all the wastefulness and idleness of clerics who should rather direct their energy towards a love of God's people. Such conduct will lead to eternal damnation!
For this and for many other things this former monk and archbishop laboured in great torment and under a heavy burden. He was helped, however, by the glorious martyr and Archbishop of England, Saint Thomas of Canterbury, who was his patron and helper and in whose name, when he went to the Holy Land, he had founded a hospital and conferred upon it the name of Saint Thomas Becket, to the great comfort and relief of all Christian pilgrims. I first learned of this hospital when I was in purgatory. But recently, I made enquiries and a certain person, a religious man, confirmed to me that the hospital exists and that it had indeed been founded by this archbishop.
Also, I saw many priests who had abandoned their sinful and unchaste ways with contrition and confession whilst they lived, but because they had not performed sufficient penance for them, they were beset by innumerable torments. And then I thought to myself that this must be only a small number of all the countless priests that there were in the world who had broken their vows of chastity and deserved punishment; and I was told: 'This is indeed only a small fraction of them, for seldom is it found that more than a very few are repentant enough and show contrition for their sins whilst they live, and therefore the great multitude of them are utterly damned!'
But in all truth, I saw nobody during my entire vision who had completely lost all hope of eventual salvation, and no one who was certain of damnation. Nevertheless, some of those who were enduring great suffering had no knowledge of when or if they might achieve an end to their pain, and this was in itself a great torment to them. Others were certain that they would be saved eventually, and this was in equal measure a great comfort to them, as you might imagine.
Thieves, Poisoners and Lapsed Clerics
It would take far too long to give an account of every person I saw in this place, rich or poor, nobleman or tradesman, layman or cleric, for there is no sin that is proscribed in Holy Scripture that does not have a corresponding penance and a place in purgatory where those who have committed it will be punished. So I shall skip over murderers, adulterers, sexual deviants, liars, perjurers, gluttons, traitors, misers, the proud, the envious, slanderers, schemers and a thousand more like them. All have a place of grievous torment allotted to them. Who would wish to dwell upon their punishment, anyway, when those who have otherwise been good religious men suffer huge and grievous pains only because they took pleasure in the skill of their hands, or from the dexterity of their long fingers? Travellers who were killed by thieves I saw punished only lightly for their sins. Thieves who had been hanged in this world and who, before their death, had openly and willingly confessed all their wicked deeds to a priest, had forgiven their enemies and all who had wronged them and forgiven all those involved in their execution, so obtaining remission for their sins, these I saw respectfully placed into a soft and easy penance. But those who had been hanged for theft and other crimes and would not confess their sins before they died, and hoped by fraud and deceit to escape harm by denying their misdeeds – even if they intended to confess to a priest later and to do appropriate penance, and were only delaying through a misplaced hope of being let off – all these suffered horribly for their sins. They were bound to red-hot irons and hanged in the middle of a fire on gibbets where cruel fiends beat at them and broke their bones with cudgels and forks. But notwithstanding, even these had not lost all hope of ultimate redemption.
Those who had been poisoners, and women who had exposed their new-born babies or killed them in other ways, or by their cursed skills had performed abortions, these I saw beaten and torn with spiked cudgels and compelled to drink molten metal, such as brass and lead, which burnt through their insides and when it had passed completely out of them it was brought back to them once again for them to drink. Great creeping monsters would clasp these women to them and tear at their neck and sides with their claws and hang from their breasts like grotesque infants with venomous teeth sucking and gnawing at them.
I saw money-lenders too, who were thrust headlong into great heaps of red-hot coins. And there were monks and clerics who had abandoned their order and the vows that they had made before God, and who had immersed themselves once more in worldly affairs like dogs returning to their own vomit. All these souls were so horribly tortured that I cannot speak of it. A full repentance and confession before death was scarcely enough to save them from eternal damnation. Their punishment is cruel and long.
King Henry II
And what can I say of a certain prince who had risen to become King Henry II and a very powerful man upon the world stage? Who can possibly imagine the agony that I saw inflicted upon his body and upon his limbs? He sat upon a horse that blew out of its nostrils and mouth a flame as black as tar, mixed with the stench of hell! The king was armed as though for battle and greatly distressed by the breath that his horse was exhaling, but more so by the armour that he wore, for it was as hot as iron that has been pulled from the furnace and laid upon an anvil. It gave off sparks as though great hammers were beating at it, heat and sparks that inflicted grievous agonies upon the king and great discomfort to anybody who dared to approach him. Of his helmet, his shield, his clothing and his leg armour, I shall say no more than this, that no man can adequately describe the pain that their heat and their weight inflicted upon him. He would certainly have given all the world, if he could have done so, to jettison just one of the spurs that stirred his wretched horse into a gallop and caused him continually to overbalance, for the saddle that he sat upon had hot pins and nails sticking through everywhere and they penetrated right through to his innards, and this to punish him for unlawful killing and adultery, for in these two things he had been an habitual offender. The fiends that surrounded him shouted insults as he suffered so, deriding him for killing and maiming men who took his deer when by natural law such game should be for everyone's benefit. He had done very little penance for this, ever. Very little at all.
King Henry complained bitterly that all the friends and relations he had left behind, and upon whom he had bestowed a large inheritance, did nothing to alleviate his suffering through prayer or the giving of alms. Neither his son Richard Coeur de Lion nor his son John had done a thing, nor any of the others: 'Their help to me now is nil, now that I am dead!' he complained. 'The wealth I accumulated for them was wasted effort on my part! The treasures and riches, rents and possessions I gathered together for their benefit while I lived has all been for nothing. I offended God to no purpose! They have proved to be mere flatterers and deceivers.'
The only solace I saw King Henry receive was through the prayers of those religious men to whom he had in his life been generous, and by these prayers he hoped to be saved. And besides everything mentioned above, he suffered also because of the unfair taxes that he would often levy upon his people and oppress them with.
A Penitent Bishop
Now I remember about four years ago a certain bishop was chosen to be archbishop but shortly thereafter died. He had been a good man, his heart was pure and devout, he had lived a chaste life and by the wearing of a coarse and uncomfortable hair shirt, and through other penances, he had tamed his fleshly desires. Outwardly he had assumed a worldly countenance and to defend himself from the evil of pompousness, which is always an enemy to virtue, he had been given to laughter and good humour, even when inside he had been full of contrition by the awareness of his failings before God.
This bishop, as I have said, used to punish himself, both for the daily mistakes that he might make in complex and often difficult duties, and for the rash things that he had done in his youth, and he would punish himself in many ways that would often reduce him to weeping. And like other bishops, in the performance of his duties he offended grievously in many things, mostly through negligence.
It was common knowledge, at the time that I had my vision, that the sick and the infirm were being cured by miracles that could be ascribed posthumously to this bishop. I am prepared to believe that this is true and I can believe that Our Lord has honoured his servant in this way, to show to others that the desire for penance and goodness which so filled his inner thoughts is pleasing to Him who sees fully into all our hearts. And yet, despite all this, I found him suffering, although undoubtedly the Joy of Heaven awaits him. And to anyone who does not believe that a soul in purgatory can do miracles in this world whilst suffering still, let him read the fourth book of the Dialogue of Saint Gregory, about a miracle that happened once in Rome, by the soul of a churchman whose name had been Pascasius.
An Abbot and a Monk
A certain abbot died about ten years ago and as he lay on his deathbed he gave a large sum of money to one of his fellow monks to distribute to the poor. The abbot had been a good man, a very devout one and a man of great sobriety, and the monk whom he gave the money to wisely and faithfully fulfilled his abbot's wishes; where he knew of people who were cold or hungry or sick, born of honest folk and who had fallen into poverty, unable to work and too proud to beg, he would open his hands as much as he could and buy them food and clothes and shoes. Also to anchoresses, women who choose to live a devout life apart, and to widows, to old people and to poor scholars, he would give generously, asking only that they pray for the soul of the abbot who had bestowed upon them this charity. And this they did, mostly with great speed.
When this honest and faithful monk had given away all that he had been given to distribute, he fell ill and was under medical supervision for a long time before he finally died. This was about four years ago. I found this monk and his former abbot together in purgatory. The abbot was still gripped by cruel torments, mostly because he had been in the habit of siphoning off wealth to his family and being over-generous with the revenues from his monastery and spending more on his relations than he should have done. Plainly this sin, that is to say, putting the love of one's family above all else, affects almost everybody in the Church and especially those who have access to the Church's wealth and income and have the means to distribute it; I am speaking of bishops and others, who often spend this money in ways that they should not.
I shall say no more about those who squander the wealth of Holy Church in order to clothe themselves extravagantly, taste food of the finest quality and to live the high life. Those who only fund their basic needs, spend nothing on vanity and sustain themselves honestly are happy to account for every penny they spend and want for nothing as a result. Clergy should first give generously to the poor of their parish or diocese, and only then with discretion should they give to their parents, and never extravagantly, in order to fully deserve the rewards of heaven. This was made clear to me in purgatory, concerning the financial dealings of bishops and abbots, Church appointees and their proxies, and it is a rule that cannot be broken without huge consequences. I have to tell you that before I saw them in purgatory, I had held a far different opinion of these people, for I was certain that such high-ranking prelates never stooped to such dishonesty and were free from such vice. Everybody who distributes the Church's wealth fairly shall be rewarded by God in the same manner as if he had given away his own wealth to the poor.
This abbot, labouring among sore and grievous punishments, was making progress towards the ease of Paradise, and as he gazed upon his brother monk, who was in a place nearby that was largely unaffected by the torments and the terrible pain of the adjacent place where the abbot was enduring his penances, and only lightly inconvenienced by suffering, the abbot displayed humility towards him and thanked him with both his hands for carrying out his wishes and faithfully distributing the money that he had given him. The abbot could see that the monk looked happy and was finely dressed in white robes that had only a few stains upon them. And when I saw this, I wondered greatly, and Saint Nicholas, who continued to hold me by the hand, told me more about him.
'Do you not know this monk?' he asked. 'I can tell you about him. He served God during his life with a clean heart and a chaste body, and pleased Him well. Much evil that would have been done in the place where he was, he was able to prevent. He was zealous in upholding goodness and hating meanness and malice and for this he patiently suffered the abuse he received from those who were less virtuous than himself. He defended the honesty of his beliefs, especially from those who wear a monk's habit in order to destroy the virtuous atmosphere of a religious life; those who serve not the spirit but their own carnal pleasures and worldly ambitions, in monasteries that should be havens of contemplation and spirituality. Alas, for sorrow! For now such people have almost destroyed the honour and respect in which Holy Church was once held. The multitude of men such as these who live without any regard to their spirituality increases beyond measure! The few honest monks who are left choose to turn a blind eye so as to be able to live a quiet life, rather than blaming and resisting and stirring up the waters so much that they risk bringing down upon themselves the wrath of these people. And yet they have no guarantee of immunity from persecution! As Ishmael, who was conceived by Abraham to a slave girl, once pursued his brother Isaac who had been born through a promise by God, so it is now. Worldly folk are hostile to those of a spiritual nature because they will not be perverted, and so they try to destroy them instead.
'Many monks, alas, have begun well, but over time, either through a willingness to waver in their convictions, or by being deceived by arguments proposed by the ignorant, they descend into the corruption and wretchedness of this world, enticed and drawn into it by the advice and the bad example of wrong-minded people. Truly, the great injury that is being done to the religious life, a life which has flowered and shone with a heavenly light in times gone by, does not go unrecognised by the prelates of Holy Church today. They acknowledge and despair of it, unaware that they themselves are caught, too, in its net! They know where their own spiritual development has led them, but not to where it should have led them, for they are happy to participate in the lusts and pleasures of this world when they should instead follow the example of Christ's poverty and attend to the diligent protection of those whom God has placed under their care; that is to say, to the people whose souls God has entrusted to each of them. If they seek this true path, they shall discover what they are looking for. But they choose instead not to nourish the people of God but to harm them! They lead others astray and cause them to lose their spirituality, they force them to deny it simply in order to conform, thereby showing themselves not to be fathers and protectors but destroyers and villains and thieves! Kings and bishops promote people to high office who then look down not as shepherds upon their flocks but as wolves upon fair game! Do you think that God by design would have caused all the trouble that we now find in this world? These churchmen are cursed by God for such behaviour, who should be devout and meek intercessors both for the living and for the dead, and whose lifestyle should preserve and increase the welfare of Christendom and whose prayers should cause all evil to be banished.'
While Saint Nicholas spoke his mind on this subject, and remembered also some very commendable things that had been done by people who had stood firmly in their beliefs and encouraged others to do the same, I gazed at many around me whom I recognised and especially those whom I had recently known and loved and who were now being racked and tortured.
One of these was a certain abbess who had died peacefully that same year. She told me many things about the life she had led whilst on Earth and the life that she had now. And she said many things that are for the ears of her sisters alone, those who live as holy virgins in the monastery of which she had been abbess, and it should bring them joy to hear it, but I can relate such things only to them. She told me that she had received great relief from her sufferings by the prayers and psalms of those to whom she had but lately been the spiritual mother. She asked me to thank them all for what they had done, and for the Masses and other holy prayers that they had persuaded certain other religious people to perform for her soul.
Furthermore, they had arranged that Masses and other devout prayers be offered to Our Lord daily for her, and these to continue indefinitely. 'Let them know beyond question,' she said, 'that they shall be rewarded for this, as much as I myself have suffered lightly because of them; and if they continue, I hope soon to escape the remainder of my penance.'
She told me that the kindnesses and compassion she had shown to others before she had been made an abbess had helped her greatly; in particular the kindness she had shown to some of her sisters in the monastery whom she had helped and comforted, each through a long and very unpleasant illness.
'There were,' she explained, 'a long while ago, two young women in our monastery who were afflicted by leprosy, so badly that many parts of their bodies had blistered. They suffered open sores where the skin lay directly upon the bone. Hardly anybody in the monastery dared to go near them. But I thought it pleasant to have them sit on my lap or to hold them in my arms, to wash them in the bath and to tend to their sores. They seemed quite content to suffer this terrible ordeal and thanked God for the chastisement. They seemed to delight in it as much as if He had sent to them instead great gifts of clothes and jewellery! And where a little while ago they were discomforted in this world by such a long and disfiguring martyrdom, now they blissfully follow the Sacred Lamb, their husband Jesus Christ, unblemished, wherever he goes. And for the compassion and help that I gave to them, I have received help and relief from the pains that I endure here.'
She told me many other things also, and that she suffered greatly in purgatory for one thing in particular and this was because she had neglected a young scholar who had been left in her care by the Bishop of Lincoln when his father went to fight in the Holy Land. This child had lived for a long while in great discomfort and sadness, and I have to tell you that that child was myself.
In addition to this abbess, I also recognised some of her sisters, those who had been nuns in her convent, suffering only a light penance.
A Knight and Simony
Once, a certain knight, who was the patron of a church and had control over the appointment of its clergyman, sold the ecclesiastical position to a cleric for twenty-seven marks. Shortly afterwards, he felt so guilty for having done so, and in order to seek forgiveness for so great a sin, that he took up the cross and went to the Holy Land to visit Our Lord's sepulchre, in order to ask God for mercy and forgiveness. At about this time the heathens had occupied the Holy Land and people were gathered from all corners of Christendom to fight them off and to drive them away. This knight joined King Richard I in the Third Crusade – this was sometime between 1189 and 1192 – but on his journey to the Holy Land he fell ill and died. I found this knight enduring harsh penances still and he told me that it was for selling that Church position that he suffered such torment.
'Moreover,' he said, 'if, before I died, I had not found it within myself sorely to repent what I had done, I would have suffered eternal damnation! However, the pilgrimage I made towards the Holy Land greatly eased my suffering. Also, it was granted to me by God's goodness that I should appear before a certain cleric in a dream and be able to ask him to inform my wife that she should arrange for five tricenaries of Masses to be sung for my soul, with the office of Placebo and Dirige which the Church has ordained for the dead, performed by chaste and honest priests, some of whom I was able to name for her. She arranged all this as I instructed and paid the priests appropriately for their services, for which my pain in purgatory has been greatly reduced.
'Immediately following my death, I was compelled to swallow the very coins that I had taken off that priest whom I mentioned earlier. But now, by the mercy of God, I am delivered from having to go through that great terror over and over again, and mostly because of the prayers and services done for me by those people who sang Masses for me after my death. Yet I am still required to suffer cold, because when I lived I had no compassion for those who lacked clothes and fuel. And often, when I gave food and other sustenance to the needy, I would give them no money for anything else.'
Then I asked him: 'What would happen if more Masses were to be sung for you? Would you receive complete relief from all pain?'
'Yes,' he answered. 'If seven more tricenaries of Masses were to be sung, each with the Placebo and the Dirige, I believe that as soon as they were finished I would be delivered at once into everlasting rest.'
I can now confirm that this knight, after his death, had indeed appeared in a vision before the cleric he mentioned, and that he named five priests who should sing Masses for him, and that these priests – their names and the places where they could be found, all expressed accurately in the dream – were utterly unknown to the cleric who was dreaming, as indeed they were to the knight's wife, and to the knight himself while he had lived. But they existed and were found.
A Caretaker Monk
A certain monk with whom I had had acquaintance seemed quite a devout young man and had been the caretaker of the church in the monastery where he had lived. In this church there were three or four images of Our Lady, holding the infant Jesus in her lap; these were set at every altar and beautifully painted and decorated in gold and in many other colours as well. Everyone who looked upon these images was entranced by them, and before each of them was placed a lamp which, by custom, was lit at every principal feast of the year, day and night. On each of these occasions they would be lit from Evensong through to the following Evensong; the lamps hung before these images of Our Lady and illuminated the whole church with their light.
It happened once that there was a great scarcity of oil in the district and no one had any to sell. Not even travelling chapmen passing through the area had any that could be bought. This monk became so concerned that he would soon run out of the oil needed for daily living that he felt justified in leaving these lamps in the church unlit. So on Ascension Day and on Whit Sunday, no light graced these pictures of Our Lady and the infant Jesus, as it should have done.
He paid for this. During the third day of Whitsun week, he suddenly had an attack of some sort that left him completely debilitated, and a week later he died, although he had been perfectly healthy before. As he was lying on his deathbed, obviously near to his end, he had a dream. Our Lady appeared before him, standing at the foot of a winding staircase near to one of the altars upon which Her image stood. He cried out to her, remembering his illness and the danger that he was in: 'Oh holy and blessed Mary! Have mercy upon me!'
'You have prevented the light of my presence from being worshipped here on Earth,' she replied sternly, 'and so I shall, in turn, remove the light of your own life.'
When he heard this he was terrified, as one might imagine. He threw himself down at her feet weeping, begging for forgiveness and promising to rectify what he had done. And Our Lady, whose intentions are usually of the more merciful kind, now looked at him in a kindly way and gestured him to come to her, indicating the step upon which she stood: 'Sit down here,' she said.
And he dreamed that he went over and turned to sit at her feet when suddenly she vanished away. And when he woke up he called for his fellow brothers and told them what he had seen and implored them to light the lamps as soon as it was time, that evening. And he vowed that if his health was restored he would continually tend these lamps and add to them, in honour of the glorious Virgin and mother of God, our Blessed Lady, Saint Mary. But he had forgotten exactly what she had said to him and three days later, on the Tuesday after Trinity Sunday, he died. But for causing the lamps to be restored, he went some way towards making up for his offence.
He was held in purgatory in torment and suffering for other reasons as well: for not adhering to the disciplines of his religion as much as he might have done, neglecting services, eating too much, laughing and joking to excess and other things of this nature.
I saw in this same place a cleric who had died whilst still a young man; a scholar who through the grace of God had excelled over almost all of his peers at the study of divinity and many other of the liberal arts. He was suffering in only a moderate way, happily striding forth with the benefit of a clear conscience towards the joys and relaxations of Paradise. Chaste and charitable while he lived, and with many other virtues that had pleased God as well, he had been more at home in libraries than in cloisters and refectories and had particularly earned the love of the glorious Virgin, the mother of God, Our Blessed Lady, Saint Mary, whom he had served devotedly. He had often knelt in humility before her altar for long periods in prayer, and for her love he would give alms generously to the poor; and for this he could be certain of Everlasting Joy and a great reward from her. And indeed, from the very hour following his death he had received unfailing relief, and by Her continual help and solace was greatly comforted in his penance. When I saw him he was discomforted only by the heat and cold of the air through which he alternated in this second place of purgatory. I asked if he had been forced to undergo any other penance besides this. And it was told to me that he had been made to feel thirst, and this was because when he had been relatively affluent he had not given alms to the poor as much as he might have done. And truly, it had seemed that he had always felt great pity towards the poor and been very generous in the giving of alms! But he had sometimes wearied of giving, particularly when he had grown richer himself. Let this be a lesson to us all, how carefully expenditure should be balanced by those who receive wealth from the Church, as our Lord Jesus has said in the gospels: Cui plus committitur ab eo plus exigetur. That is to say: 'He who has more to give, should give more.'
Now, because I have pretty much exhausted and written down all the things that I found and saw in purgatory, let my narration of these things now end. And forthwith, if God will give me the grace to, I will try to describe something of the comforts and joys that delighted the blessed souls who rested happily in the merriment and laughter of Paradise.