The Museum of Purgatory is entirely contained within one small room of the Church of the Sacred Heart (Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio) in the Prati neighborhood of Rome – on the same side of the Tiber River as Vatican City. This museum is the smallest museums in the world and houses the most unusual collections: an amazing collection of books, paintings and fabrics bearing traces of ghosts from Purgatory. Scorched fingerprints on prayer books, handprints burnt on to wooden tables, and singed pillowcases and shirt sleeves seem to be the purgatory equivalent of paper and pen. One day in 1898 the most inexplicable things started to happen in the church, a fire broke out in one of the annexed chapels, but when Father Victor - once the fire had been put out - went back into the chapel he found the mysterious image of a distraught face drawn on one of the blackened walls. The priest thought it was a ghost trying to communicate with the living and from that day on he devoted his whole life to setting up this museum.
Hand prints which appear to be burned onto the pages of books
The museum, about 100 years old, was the brainchild of Victor Jouet, a French priest who travelled to Belgium, France, Germany and Italy, scooping up relics to display in his gothic church on the banks of the Tiber. Victor Jouet, was supposedly inspired to build this purgatorial museum after a fire destroyed a portion of the original Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio, leaving behind the scorched image of a face that he believed to be a trapped soul. Jouet died in the museum's only room in 1912, surrounded by his treasures, and nothing has been added to the museum since.
There are 10 important relics inside the museum:
1. Photographic reproduction of the altar of Our Lady of the Rosary located in a chapel which existed before 1900 between the present church and the religious house.
2. Three finger-prints on the prayer book of Maria Zaganti of the Parish of St. Andrew in Poggio Berni (Rimini), left by the deceased Palmira Rastelli, the parish priest’s sister, on 5 March 1871.
3. The apparition, in 1875, of Luisa Le Sénèchal (born at Chanvrières; died on 7 May1873), to her husband Luigi Le Sénèchal, in their house at Ducey (Manche-France), asking him to pray for her and leaving as a sign the print of five fingers on his night-cap.
4. A photocopy (the original is kept at Winnemberg near Warendorf in Westfalia, Germany), of a burn mark made on the apron of Sister M. Herendorps, a lay sister of the Benedictine Monastery of Winnemberg, on Saturday 13 October 1696 by the hand of the deceased Sr. Mary Care Schoelers, a choir sister of the same order, a victim of the plague of 1637.
5. A photo of the mark made by the deceased Mrs. Leleux, on the sleeve of her son Joseph’s shirt, when she appeared to him on the night of 21 June 1789 at Wodecq (Belgium).
6. A finger print left by the pious Sister Mary of St. Luigi Gonzaga, when she appeared to Sister Margareth of the Sacred Heart, on the night between 5 and 6 June 1894.
7. Marks left on a small wooden table and on the sleeve and chemise of the Venerable Mother Isabella Fornari, abbess of the Poor Clares of the Monastery of St. Francis in Todi. The four marks were left by the deceased Fr. Panzini, former Abbot Olivetano of Mantua, on the 1st November 1731.
8. Mark left on the copy of «The Imitation of Christ» belonging to Margherite Demmerlé of Ellinghen Parish (diocese of Metz) by her mother-in-law who appeared to in 1815, thirty years after her death in 1785.
9. Fiery finger prints by the deceased Joseph Schitz when he touched with his right hand the (German) prayer book of his brother George on 21 December 1838 at Sarralbe (Lorraine).
10. Photocopy of a ten lire Italian banknote. Between 18 August and 9 November 1919 a total of thirty such notes were left at the Monastery of St. Leonardo in Montefalco by a deceased priest who asked for Masses to be said.