The reuelacion that foloweth here in this boke tretyth how a certeyn deuowt person, the wiche was a monke in the abbey of Einshamme, was rapte in spirite by the wille of God and ladde by the hand of Seint Nycholas the space of .ii. days and .ii. nyghtes to see and knowe the peynys of purgatorye and the iowys of paradyse, and in what state the sowlis ware that ware in purgatorye and also in paradyse. In the year 1196, a monk in the abbey of Eynsham in Oxfordshire, was taken out of his body, by the will of God, and led for the space of two days and two nights by Saint Nicholas through purgatory and into Paradise. He found many souls there whom he had known when they were alive on Earth and was shown these places for his own profit and for the profit and comfort of all Christian folk, so that no one should mistrust or doubt the existence of another life and another world.
And as to the truth of this revelation, no one should doubt it, for if you read and understand this account fully, you will see that God has shown such miracles to this monk that the possibility of them being caused by an overactive imagination or by hallucination can be completely discounted. This revelation should cause all Christian people to fear God and to love Him and praise Him, for no comparable revelation, and none so clear, has ever been experienced in England, nor anywhere else so far as we know.
HERE BEGINS A MARVELOUS REVELATION SHOWN TO A MONK OF EYNSHAM IN THE DAYS OF KING RICHARD 1
In the Benedictine monastery at Eynsham in Oxfordshire, lived a young man who had turned from the vanities of this world and resolved to become a monk; but from the very beginning of his calling he had been ill and had lain for fifteen months in a very weak state, unable, sometimes, to keep down anything but a little warm water for days at a time. No medicines had any effect, except often to worsen his symptoms, and for the last several months his condition had been deteriorating. But then, as Easter approached, he found himself able to walk around the infirmary with the help of a stick. On the evening of the Wednesday before Easter, when the traditional service of the Passion of Christ is sung during the night, upon hearing the music coming from the monastic church he took his stick and walked with the help of some other brothers into the chapel where the service was underway. And here he experienced such joy, and became so rapt in devotion that the tears streamed down his cheeks and from midnight until late in the morning he praised and lauded God, weeping as he remembered what Our Lord had done for mankind and remembering also with grief the sins that he himself had committed when he was young and the imperfections of his present state. And towards noon he asked for two brothers who had the authority to hear confession and to give penitents absolution to come to him. And to each in turn he confessed his sins as thoroughly as he could, with great repentance and much weeping, and he received absolution and then one of his confessors asked why he was so upset; was it because he felt his death to be near. The monk replied: 'No, but when we were all together in the church participating in the service, I received such gladness of soul that I almost fainted.' And he asked whether it was usual during the very early morning of Maundy Thursday for two senior monks like themselves, a prior and a sub-prior, to come before the brothers in their full regalia, in their white robes, and to discipline them.
The monk he was speaking to was Adam the sub-prior of the monastery, who was also his own natural brother, and Adam thought that he must have been hallucinating, perhaps as a result of his illness, and so did not enquire further but commended him to God and went his way. So brother Edmund spent all day in celebration of the greatness of God. And the following night, after sleeping a little, he rose from his bed in the infirmary and when the bell rang for Matins he went into the church, as he had done the previous night. What happened then, and what followed, is astonishing.
But first we must move forwards to the following morning, which was the morning of Good Friday, when the brothers all rose from their beds to celebrate Prime, around about dawn. They entered the church and found at the foot of the Abbot's seat brother Edmund lying bare-footed and face down. They rushed over to help but found his limbs to be so motionless that it seemed as though all the life had drained from him. They washed his head and his hands and feet in cold water and saw that this caused him to tremble a little, but he soon fell deathly still once more. For a long time they were uncertain what to do. He was not dead, but he was showing no sign of any recovery either. At last they agreed to carry him to his bed and that some of them should watch over him. They all wondered how he could have made his way unaided into the church when they had all been celebrating the service of Matins. Truly, other things that now follow are to be wondered at and feared much more!
Some of them returned to the church and soon discovered that the figure of Christ on the cross, which every year they kissed and worshipped in remembrance of Our Lord's Passion, had fresh blood on it at the places where Christ received His wounds. The sextons of the church had, before Lent, let down this cross and it lay on the floor of the church between an altar and the wall, waiting to be raised on the morning of Good Friday. Brother Edmund's stick and shoes were found near to this cross.
All the monks then went into the church, greatly perplexed at what seemed to be happening; they agreed to be beaten with birch sticks and then, lying prostrate on the floor of the church, sang the seven psalms of penance, to receive the Lord's mercy. In the infirmary, brother Edmund lay unconscious all through Good Friday, all the following night and the following day as well, almost until sunset. The monks opened his mouth and put into it the juice of various herbs but they always came back out again. They put hot poultices onto his chest and arms, pricked the soles of his feet with needles and scraped them, but still he lay like a dead man, except for a little redness in his cheeks. Sometimes his face would turn ashen grey but then recover again and look normal. They blew a noise from a great horn into his ears to try to waken him, but to no avail.
The next day, in the evening, Easter evening, at about the time that the brothers were gathering in the church for compline, brother Edmund's cheeks and lips moved, as though he had swallowed something, his eyelids began to twitch uncontrollably as though they were jumping about in boiling water and a yellow discharge appeared on his cheeks, as though from tears. Those who were with him called out to the others, thinking that it was a prelude to death. He had been observed for a little while sighing softly like a man crying in his sleep, but now he tried to speak, although nothing audible emerged. Then slowly he surfaced into consciousness and said: 'Oh Saint Mary! Saint Mary!' And again: 'Oh my Lady! sancta Maria!' I give you the exact words that he said: 'Oh my Lady. sancta Maria!' He said this many times, then: 'For what sin has such a joy been snatched away from me! My Lady, sancta Maria, when shall I regain such a joy as I have just known?' He repeated these things over and over, like a man sleeping with his eyes closed.
Then, as though awakening from a great sleep, he lifted his head, and at once began to weep bitterly, joining his hands and fingers together and raising himself up in his bed, resting his forehead upon his knees and crying into his hands. One of those who were with him asked why he was weeping and how he felt. He rested for a short while and then said: 'I was very well until a moment ago, but now I feel very sick indeed!' And he began crying again, in a way that was even more distressing than before. And because it would be lengthy to relate, and impossible, anyway, to remember everything that he said, we will leave him weeping in his bed and prepare to gather together all the things which he subsequently said, when he had come to himself again. For when he had ceased from crying, he tried two or three times to open his eyes, and then began to search around with both his hands for the stick that he had left in the church. And when he could not discover it: 'Find my stick and bring my shoes from beside the pillar,' he asked, 'and let's go back into the infirmary.' Then, when some of his fellow monks said: 'Brother, can't you see that you are in the infirmary?' he replied: 'How do I come to be here? Were we not just now in the church singing Matins?' And his fellow monks told him that had been in bed for two days. 'Tomorrow will be Easter Day,' they said. And when he heard this, when he heard that the cross had been worshipped the day before but he had not participated in the service, he began to weep once more and said: 'Oh, should I not have worshipped our Lord's cross on Good Friday? I have not worshipped it with you! But I ask that I might be allowed to worship it now.'
So a silver cross was brought to him, which he clasped lovingly to his heart and with tears and kisses, he watered the feet of Christ. And to the irritation of some who thought his devotions to be over-tedious, he thanked our Lord and Redeemer, and the Father and the Holy Ghost, for innumerable blessings, which he went through one by one, both those that applied to himself and those that universally pertain to Holy Church; and for all varieties of Christian people, and for his enemies, if there were any, and for his friends, he made prayers and entreaties. And I believe he bowed his head thirty times or more to the foot of the cross with tears and with sobbing, and often his voice would break with emotion. And the words he uttered were so fitting and so well-reasoned and so fluently delivered that it sounded as though he was reading them rather than saying them. And punctuating every prayer was a reminder of the great humility and goodness of our Redeemer. His sweet words stirred many to tears themselves and whenever we remember them now, we feel an inner warmth and a love and devotion to Our Lord, to our fellow monks, and to all men.
By now it neared the time at which the monks would normally assemble to hear readings, and the brothers who had brought him the cross left the infirmary. And brother Edmund said: 'Now I know that it is Easter.' And it shall be revealed to you why he made this curious remark a little later.
The only one to stay with him was a monk who shared his vocation and loved him for his religious devotion and admired him for the wisdom and humility he had just shown, though he seemed to this monk still to be stunned by the wonder of the things he had seen, both before he had fallen unconscious and the things he had later seen as he journeyed spiritually within another world. And as I have said, or may say, he recalled many things which this other monk kept in his heart and remembered. And afterwards, at his leisure and with great diligence, this other monk, or rather, I, Adam, sub-prior of the Benedictine monastery at Eynsham near Oxford, gained an even fuller account from Edmund and an even clearer picture of what had taken place. But nevertheless, regarding everything that brother Edmund saw in the space of two days and two nights, there were some things that he would not reveal. And sometimes he would begin to relate something and then stop, and could not be persuaded to continue.
And I am unable, even now, to reveal everything that he said, even the things he told to those in whose love of Christ he had found a special trust; neither can any who heard him give sufficient expression to the details he was able to give of his visions, neither in writing nor in speech. He was asked among other things whether he hoped to escape his illness and whether he had long to live. And he said: 'I shall live long enough, and will fully recover from my illness.'
During the evening of that Saturday, brother Edmund expressed a desire to eat, having been so long without food. 'Could you bring me some bread and a little left-over honey?' he asked. And so he broke his fast. Then afterwards he spent time in prayer and weeping until the hour of the night that heralds the service of Matins and, when the brothers rose to enter the church, brother Edmund went with them as though he had risen from the dead with Our Lord, who in that same hour rose from death into life. So they went together into the church, and not without a sense of joy and wonderment from those who saw him, for without any help or physical support of any kind he made his way to the choir, which he had not been able to do for the previous eleven months at least. And there he remained, in tearful devotion, until the service of Matins was completed, and then he took part in the Resurrection of Our Lord, which is enacted every year in this church, and the appearance of the angel to the women at the sepulchre telling of the resurrection of their King, and that they should tell Christ's disciples of his glorious return, and finally the meeting in the garden between Mary Magdalene and the risen Christ who spoke to her in the guise of a gardener; and he stayed until the Masses were done and they had all received the body of Christ.
After this, now that he had received the Eucharist, he was taken by his fellow monks with joy and lightness of being into the common room where they could all speak openly together. Now they gathered about him, and for the edification and comfort of their souls they questioned him about the things that he had experienced and that he had seen. For all who had heard Edmund speak a few hours before understood that many great and marvellous things had been shown to him. But though they were insistent, he hesitated for a while, then agreed to speak with the two brothers who had heard his confession on the Thursday morning and he told them separately what shall hereafter be set down and explained, and with such great sighing and weeping, it must be said, that it sometimes prevented him from continuing. Some things he told to them both, others to prior Thomas alone, or to sub-prior Adam, his own brother, and even then, only after pausing to weigh, in all humility, the virtues of revealing all he was able to. And so he began to recount the following, as it is now set out.
'When I, brother Edmund, was stricken, as you saw, with my prolonged illness,' he explained, 'I was forever, with heart and soul, blessing and thanking Our Good Lord that, unworthy though I was, he had chosen to discipline me with a fatherly hand; and when I had put aside all hope of recovery, I began, as best I could, to prepare myself by discovering how I could more quickly escape the penance and sorrow of the world to come and how I might achieve everlasting life when the time came that I should be called out of my body. And as I was thinking these things as clearly as I was able to, after a while a thought fell into my mind that I should pray to God that he might agree to reveal to me, by some means, the nature of the world that is to come and the condition of the souls that have left their bodies. If this was revealed to me, I, who was, as I supposed, likely soon to be facing such things for real, would be better placed to know what to hope for and how to prepare my passage from this world to the next, and to love and fear God with a strengthened faith for as long as I remained in this doubtful life. And on a certain night at the beginning of Lent, six weeks ago, I dreamed that a distinguished man was standing beside me and he said: 'Oh son, your devotion to prayer is great indeed and such perseverance and humility shall not be unhelpful to you in the presence of God. But nevertheless, while you should continue in your prayer, from now on seek the help of some other religious persons, so that their prayers, too, might increase the strength of your own; and if you do this, you shall certainly obtain all that you have asked for.'
'Then this figure in my dream named some people and the authority that they held, saying: 'Be aware that it will profit you greatly to receive the prayers of these people, for God listens out for their prayers especially. Send also to the monastery of nuns at Godstow, three or four miles downriver towards Oxford, asking them to pray for you. For God is greatly pleased with their holy purpose and through His goodness will seek to expedite their desires.'
'With this, I woke up. And I resolutely kept this dream in mind and as soon as I could I asked these people to pray for me, though not telling them the circumstances surrounding my asking. And six weeks later, on the night before the evening of the Last Supper, as you will remember, when I received from you and from prior Thomas the penance of birching in the chapterhouse – that is to say, six strokes of the birch from each of you and five more in addition for the Fridays of Lent that I had been forced to miss by reason of my illness – I felt such an effusion of grace in the tears that I shed by reason of these disciplines that I cannot express it in words. So much so that the next day it was an immense joy for me to continue weeping. Then late the following evening, before it was time to rise for Matins, I fell into a pleasant sleep, and as I slept, I heard a voice, I don't know where it came from, but it was saying to me: 'Arise and go into the chapel of Saint Lawrence and all the Martyrs, and behind the altar you will find a cross with an image of Christ attached to it, redeeming the world by his death. Go to this cross, meekly and devoutly, and kiss it in remembrance of your Saviour, and offer to Him with a contrite and modest heart a sacrifice of prayers, in the true knowledge that such devotion will be rewarded by God and will bring to you an abundance of delight.'
'Then I woke up. And following the brothers who were in the infirmary I made my way to the church to hear Matins. And as the service was beginning I met with my brother Adam in the church porch; he was one of those who had disciplined me the night before and when I saw him I made a sign to him to discipline me again. And so we both went quickly into the chapterhouse and shortly returned to the porch where we met with prior Thomas to whom I also made a sign that I wished to be disciplined. But he beckoned to me to remain for a while in the church. The brothers whom I had followed were sitting apart in pews reserved for the infirm but I left them there and went alone into the chapel of Saint Lawrence and the Martyrs and to the altar that had been shown to me in my dream. I took off my shoes and knelt upon the flagstones and lowered my head many times to the ground. Then I went behind the altar to look for the cross. I honestly had no idea that anything should be there, for no one had told me that a cross had been let down. Nevertheless, I found it, just as it had been shown to me in my dream. And at once I broke into tears and lying prostrate before it I worshipped this holy cross, then I raised myself to my knees and began longer supplications, praying and giving thanks to God, kissing the feet of Christ upon the crucifix and watering them with my tears. And as I lifted up my eyes, that were now so sore from weeping, I felt something wet dripping onto me and touching a drop of this fluid with my fingers I knew by the colour that it was blood. Looking at the right side of the image of Our Lord's body I could see blood pouring out, like a man's flesh when he is being bled! It is true that I was behind the altar at midnight but two lights were shining on either side of the cross, like two bright tapers burning. I tried to see where this light was coming from, but I could not. I caught in my cupped hands I don't know how many drops of that precious blood and bathed my eyes, my ears and my nostrils with it. And then I put a drop of that blessed blood into my mouth and with great desire in my heart, I swallowed. And whether or not I offended God by doing this, I don't know. The rest of the blood was still on my hands and I had every intention of keeping it! The right foot of Christ on this crucifix was also bleeding. Truly, when I was restored yesterday to myself and found no trace of that blood on my hands any more, my anguish was almost unbearable, to think that I had lost such an inestimable treasure.
'And there is more that I should tell you. The two lights that I saw shining on each side of the crucifix suddenly moved to the south side of the altar. I was kneeling on the north side and seeing them move I followed them around, hoping to see a spirit or some other supernatural manifestation. But when I came to that side of the altar I heard a voice behind me; it was that same old father, Prior Thomas, whom I had met in the porch shortly before and from whom I had desired a penitential beating with the birch, and who had asked me to wait a little longer for it. Then all that I saw vanished and I found myself in the chapterhouse.
'When I had said the customary prayer and he had prayed for me and absolved me, 'in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost', he gave me six strokes of the birch, as he had done the night before. I asked him repeatedly to increase my penance, for at every stroke instead of pain and sorrow I felt an inestimable and incredible sweetness and joy. But he would give me no more, so I got up. Then he went and sat in the Abbot's chair, clothed, as he was, all in white. I prostrated myself before him, going through the dialogue of penance once more with him; I said my Confiteor and he repeated a prayer over me in reply and gave me his blessing once again: 'In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.' And when I had answered Amen, there approached a worshipful father, a senior who had a countenance like an angel! He was clothed entirely in white, a white that was brighter and purer than snow. His hair was white and he was of middling stature. He raised me from the ground and said these words: 'Follow me,' he said, simply.
'Then, truly, he held me gently but firmly by the right hand, and clasped my hand in his. And this was the first time that I felt myself transported in spirit.'
Edmund paused at this point, and his brother Adam, who was his confessor and to whom he had told all the things that have just been related, then asked him: 'And do you still believe that prior Thomas and I disciplined you that night, as you say, or went into the chapterhouse in our white habits?'
Edmund was surprised at this question and said: 'Are you doubting what I say?'
Adam answered: 'I can tell you that this was not done, nor could it have ever been done, for our Benedictine order forbids such disciplines to be given in the chapterhouse at that time of night.'
Edmund replied: 'There is no question but that I received the disciplines from you as I have described. I know for certain that I received them, from men at least who looked like you, and I was awake and fully aware at the time, for I felt the strokes and heard them, and I recognised your voice and that of Prior Thomas as you gave me absolution. On the first night, when I went out of the chapterhouse, I had it in my mind to stay in the church until morning, from the great joy of devotion that I had experienced in there, but I was disturbed by the noise of the monks leaving the church after Matins. And for fear that I might be censured for presumption if I stayed in there all night, I went with our brothers to bed. And when I came out of the chapterhouse I met with brother Martin. And I lay awake all night praising God and weeping for my sins and did not sleep until before Matins the next night. And during this service, at about the beginning of the third nocturne, from the altar of the chapel of Saint Lawrence where I was praying before the cross, I thought I heard Prior Thomas’s voice and a sound like that of a man treading heavily on flagstones, and so I went into the chapterhouse. This was at the same hour as the previous night when I and Prior Thomas had gone into the chapterhouse for the same reason. And, everything happened as I have already told you. Only this can I not remember – how I went from the chapel of Saint Lawrence and the Martyrs to the chapterhouse. For I could not have done it without my stick, and I know that I left my stick by the sanctuary of the altar. How I passed over the ground that lies between the chapel and the chapterhouse, and the steps and four or five other obstacles, I cannot remember. For when I came to myself once more those things I had experienced by the altar and around the cross were so fresh in my mind that I was certain I had been found there and had no recollection of the chapterhouse.'
Now, concerning the two monks who brought him into the chapterhouse and to whom he read his Confiteor, who prayed for him, gave him absolution and disciplined him with the birch, and who were so in the likeness of Prior Thomas and his brother Adam that he was convinced that it was them, they were doubtless ghosts or holy angels, acting through the will of God. And as for the venerable old father whose face was like an angel and his clothes whiter than snow, who took Edmund by the hand when he lay prostrate in the chapterhouse and said to him: 'Follow me,', this was the holy and blessed bishop Saint Nicholas whom Edmund especially loved and worshipped daily, as it shall be more fully and openly declared a little later. And here this digression ends and we take up again the narration. This is what brother Edmund revealed of his experiences:
Gladly, then, did I go with this venerable old father dressed in white. By his voice and with his hand he led me forward with him as his companion; and all the time that I lay unconscious here in the monastery we were walking together hand in hand. Truly, this must have been from a little past midnight on the morning of Good Friday, when I lay before the Abbot's seat in the chapterhouse, until the evening of Saturday when, as you saw, I returned from the spiritual surroundings and profound peace that I had been enjoying and was brought back into this troublesome and restless world.
First we went eastwards following a path that was straight and even until we came to a certain region that was broad and horrible to look at, like a quagmire of thick clay. There were countless numbers of men and women there, an infinity so it seemed, set to endure diverse and innumerable pains. There were uncountable numbers of every profession, men and women from all walks of life, monks of every order. Here were sinners set to the punishments that fitted their deeds and their characters. I heard and saw by the open space of that field, whose end no eye might see, wretched companies of men and women bound together in groups of similar professions and similar misdeeds, crying out in grievous agony. And whoever I saw ready to go from this place of pain and punishment to heaven, I was aware for what sins they had been punished, and the amount and quality of the satisfaction they had given, either through contrition and confession of their offences, or by the remedies and other benefits done for them by others here on Earth. Truly, of all those that I saw there I knew that every one of them was comforted by the hope of Everlasting Joy. Some I saw patiently suffering immense torture and horrible agonies, but the good things that their consciences had led them to were weighing in their favour, and through faith that they would eventually attain the joy of heaven they bore their burdens lightly. Certainly, they wept and screamed in pain, but as they progressed further their suffering was lessened and made easier to bear. Also, I saw many of them suddenly escape from their place of torment and make a break for the more gentle regions they were approaching. But at once, from out of the ground, a flame engulfed them and devils challenged them, using whips and forks and diverse other kinds of implements to return them back again to the agonies they thought they had escaped from. Nevertheless, being so beaten and broken and inwardly burnt, still they managed to free themselves again, and as I have said, the further they went, the lesser their pains became.
And to be honest, some made speedy progress along their way, others made a little progress and some almost none at all. And to a few their journey brought them no profit but only miserable failure and they went from cruel pains to even worse! Each of them was helped or hindered on their journey by the things they had done in the past that had been worthy of merit or thought to be deserving, and also by relief that was forthcoming also by present benefits done for them by their friends in this world. Truly, those things which I saw and understood for myself, or came to learn about by going and speaking to some of the souls there, I will openly reveal below.
I saw countless numbers of tortures there. Some people were roasted by fire. Some were fried in a pan. Some had red-hot nails forced into their bones and into their joints to loosen them. Some were immersed in baths of pitch and sulphur with a horrible stench, or of molten lead or brass. Some had their flesh chewed by the teeth of venomous snakes, others were thrown down in a heap and impaled on sharp stakes whose ends were on fire. And while some were hanged on gallows, others had their entrails drawn out with hooks or were flayed with whips; and all suffered horribly. And, truly, amongst them were bishops and abbots and other dignitaries, some who had achieved great spiritual prosperity and others a position of great secular responsibility. Some had been raised to high office in the Church; these were punished with twice as much sorrow as the rest! For I saw clerics, monks, nuns, laymen and lay women, and the degree of their punishment was in direct proportion to their worldly standing, to the dignity and prosperity they had enjoyed in life. And in truth, I saw marked out for special agony those who had in my time been judges and prelates. And because it would take too long to describe the fate of every person I saw, I will recall only a few examples of what they suffered before death and what after death, for I was able to know all this. However, no man can properly describe even the lightest of these punishments, nor even imagine them, for it is impossible to appreciate the diversity of the torments that these souls endure, and impossible to number them. I take God to witness that if any man had done to me, or to my friends, all the crimes and injuries that it is possible to do in this life, even flayed us, and I had caused him to be punished in the way that I saw, and for the length of time that I saw, I would suffer death a thousand times for his deliverance, everything there is so painful and distressing. Let all of us who still live in this world, then, acknowledge how important it is to cast out our sins and to improve the way we live, and appreciate how diligently we should strive to keep God's commandments and to be charitable, for by this and by the mercy of God we may deserve to be spared such torment. And also to appreciate that our dear friends, our father and mother, sisters, brothers and others whom we have loved and who are being punished for their offences, may the sooner be released from such suffering by the good deeds and works of mercy and pity that we may devoutly perform for their help and redemption.
And before I tell you of the pains and torments suffered by some of the people whom I knew, and who knew me, I will quickly write here about the places of extreme suffering that I found as I moved with tears of compassion out of this first place of torment that we had encountered. Truly, it seemed to us that this first place was so big that it could not be crossed, but we, that is to say, Saint Nicholas and I, made our way to a side adjoining it and found ourselves alone; although, as it seemed to me, there could have been any number of people there without us fearing any injury or harm.
Having passed this first place we came to a second place of torment and found ourselves alone before a high hill. Its peak was almost touching the clouds and it was quite distinct and separate from the first place. Quickly, we found ourselves on the slopes of this hill and on the far side we looked down upon a deep valley and a dark one, filled with bracken and bushes for as far as the eye could see. And in the bottom of this valley was a horrible lake of stagnant water. And out of this deadly water rose a foul mist that carried with it a nauseating stench. On the side of the hill that hung over the lake were flames reaching almost to the sky and on the opposite hillside was such a great and insufferable cold, that is to say, of snow and hail and many other dreadful storms, that I thought I had never seen anything quite so bizarre and painful and cruel.
The entire length of this valley – the hillside whose ground expelled such horrible flames and the opposing hillside that was so icy cold – was as full of souls as a hive is of bees; and it seemed to be a common and general torment that each soul was drowned in the lake and then taken up and cast into the fire and at last carried high into the air by the huge flames, as sparkles fly up from a blazing bonfire, and deposited beyond the other shore of the lake onto the hillside of horrible cold, snow, hail and sudden storms. And having suffered here on the ice, then the soul was cast down, or slid headlong again into the grievous stench of the lake, and was then taken up and cast once more into the towering flames. And some of them spent more time in the fire than others, and some spent more time in the cold. And some spent most of their time in the stench of the lake. Some were tied up and squashed like grapes in the flames of the fire. Truly, the situation in the lake was this: that everyone was compelled to traverse its entire length, from beginning to end, to complete their purgation. But nevertheless, the diversity of the torments was very great. Some had a lighter punishment than others and some were granted a much swifter passage, for the quality of the good that they had done during their lives, and also for the amount of help and suffrage given to them by their friends after they had died. Those who carried a greater burden of sin, and who received little help from the living, were set to spend a very long time in this torment. But the nearer they came to the end of the lake, the easier their sufferings became, for the most cruel pains were in the beginning; although, as I have said, not all were treated equally and certainly the suffering in this place was greater than we saw in the first place.
I found by this lake many more people whom I had once known than I had in the first place. However, I spoke to old acquaintances in both of these places. They did not seem to have the same build as they did when I knew them in this world; many seemed much thinner and haggard by their sufferings, and some were mere skeletons. Nevertheless, I knew them well and recognised them as easily as I had been able to when they lived with us in this world.
I would like now to tell a story which should serve as a lesson to us all concerning why we should give reverence to God and to all his holy saints, both men and women. For truly, while I was looking at all the things that I have described above, and many others it must be said, and having had long conversations with those whom I had known in this world, I suddenly heard a great cry from far off, like poachers celebrating a theft and mocking those who had tried to stop them. And following closely upon this noise I saw a company of wicked spirits leading – to the very gates of hell itself they hoped! – the soul of a woman who had recently died. Oh merciful God! What torments these cruel enemies laid upon her! And the more they realised that she was beyond help, the bolder they became.
Who will believe me when I say that these devils tossed the lady about from one to the other with red hot instruments as though with tennis rackets and she was a tennis ball! Who could describe in any believable way the agony she suffered as her stomach and intestines were pierced through with the red-hot prongs that protruded from these grotesque implements as she was battered by them? But as God is my witness, I saw her suffer in this horrible way the torture that they cruelly laid upon her, and I did not only see these cruel torments as a man sees with his eyes but I also felt and suffered them with her. For the inward feelings and the heaviness or gladness, the emotions of fear and terror that assaulted these people in their souls, all was plain and open to me. So therefore this unhappy soul, both for the present sorrow she suffered and for the fear of everlasting damnation that she faced, I knew and was able to share her great anguish. She had no hope of escape to comfort her; she was desolate and destitute of all help. Oh bitterness! Most bitter of all bitterness is the annihilation of hope. This lady of the night, this prostitute, had left her mortal body the day before and having lived a life of vice was now clothed in shame. Within her thoughts, her conscience chewed away at the bitter memory of shameful deeds while without, she was tormented by the heavy mocking of devils. She felt that she gave truth to Job's saying: 'They live their days in luxury and delight, and in the twinkling of an eye they fall down to hell!'
But while this unhappy soul was on the road to damnation for the sin of unlawfully satisfying the filthy lusts of the body, Lo! suddenly there appeared in the sky a great light which caused these wicked spirits to lose all their strength and to fall with their victim to the ground. And out of this dazzling light descended a multitude of virgins clothed in shining garments that were as white as snow and adorned with gold and precious stones. The grace and the joy that they radiated was so intense that, even though I can bear witness to the beauty of their looks and the serenity of their countenance and although I may search as thoroughly as I can, I can find no words to express this properly. The fairest of them all was the blessed virgin and martyr Saint Margaret. And when this condemned soul saw her, she cried out the bitter anguish that she was feeling, and more for the knowledge of her own sins than for the pain inflicted by the devils that were tormenting her: "Oh blessed and precious bride of Christ,' she screamed, 'have mercy on me and help me! For my sins I have rightfully been put to pain and torture and I admit that all my life I have despised the commandments of God and given my body to unclean living and have loved neither God nor any of his saints. To you alone of the holy martyrs I offered my thoughts, and you alone have I loved. Every Saturday out of my own money I offered a candle at your altar. And having at last come to my senses I abandoned, for your love, the habits of my foul life. I believed also that through confession my sins would all be washed away. But alas! For sorrow! my confession has not been sufficient to cleanse such a long history of sinfulness! I have not shown a fitting remorse and have not matched each sin with a suitable penance. Therefore my wrongdoing clings to me still, not yet forgiven, for I was slow to wipe it all away with good works. Lo! my lady, my sweetness and my comfort, were my acts of faithful devotion towards you all for nothing? Shall I now perish, and shall you lose my love, you to whom I have alone given my heart and mind and through whom I thought myself saved, but now find that I am destroyed?'
She said these and many similar things whilst weeping bitterly with more grief than a man may believe. For I take God as my witness that I saw the tears break out of her eyes as though they were hailstones! And as she lamented, the glorious virgin and martyr Saint Margaret turned to the multitude of other virgins around her and said: 'Oh, most sweet sisters of mine, can you see the peril that this woman is in and how these devils pretend that she is a deserving prey to their unending malice? We must do the only thing that can now help her. Let us pray to the everlasting Judge and meek redeemer, that He, who is capable of all things, will give his best promise, through his goodness and at our desire, to help this wretched soul who has shared in the redemption through his precious blood, to help to release her from the cruel power and the venomous teeth of these wicked spirits that now torment her.'
When Saint Margaret had said these words, all the virgins immediately went down on their knees and lifted up their hands in prayer. And when they had delivered their petition to their immortal spouse and blessed Lord, they rose together and Saint Margaret, with an expression both serious and unflinching, made her sleeve into a sort of whip and, approaching the devils, lifted it up in a threatening way. They scattered here and there like flies in the teeth of a gale! And then suddenly a little way away there appeared a ditch full to the brim with boiling water. And I saw this poor prostitute put into this ditch as the blessed and merciful helper Saint Margaret said: 'It is here that you must now fulfil the penance which you should have done before, when you were alive. And through my mediation you shall have help and relief from your suffering. And afterwards, when your sins are fully cleansed, I will lead you to where you shall receive everlasting joy.'
It cannot be expressed how gratefully this sinful woman reacted to these words when she heard them, for she knew that her penance would end and that she would then experience the goodness and the mercy of God. When this had all been done, I was treated to a glorious sight as the virgins ascended up into the sky.
An Alcoholic Goldsmith
And here I can relate another, similar miracle of great mercy and pity, done through the excellent might and power of the blessed bishop Saint Nicholas; a noble deed performed on behalf of a certain servant of his, whom I knew not long before and had grown fond of because of his good character and repute, which prompts me even more eagerly to speak of him. For this man was a goldsmith by occupation, and he was the one who first introduced me as a young man to the merits and to the name of Saint Nicholas, by whose hand I was being guided. And though I may now be accused of breaking my narrative – for I promised that I would speak of the places I saw before describing the torment of the souls that I found within them – let that be taken to apply only to those others that I shall shortly describe, and for the benefit of all those who are pleased to listen, or to read, I shall continue.
You may remember how a certain goldsmith, a citizen of this district, was suddenly taken ill and died, and that it was openly put about that the cause of his death was alcoholism. So where else might a man expect to find this goldsmith’s soul except amongst those that Saint Paul spoke of in his epistle when he said: ‘Where sin continues up to the point of death, no man need pray for the deceased!’ Who can be said to continue his sin up to his death more than a man who’s very sin kills him? And this man not only continued in the sin of drunkenness up to his death but died through the very excess of it.
This goldsmith, whose over-proneness to drunkenness we now speak of, and so that it might be dreaded and feared, spent the last three days of his life in profound intoxication and if I had known fully the circumstances of his death, would I have thought it any great virtue to pray for him, if my prayer before the Heavenly Judge would be deemed worthless and of no help to him? Nevertheless, I did pray for him, although not often, since I could not be certain of the circumstances in which he had died. And as God willed, this goldsmith was in the second place of torment and I was close by him and recognised his face; and I marvelled that, of all the people whom I recognised, he seemed to be suffering his pains lightly and to be in the very least of the torments that were having to be endured. My guide, Saint Nicholas, saw me looking and asked if I knew him. And I replied: 'Very well!'
Then he said: 'If you know him, speak to him.'
'The goldsmith watched us both approaching, and recognising us, with an expression of such joy that it can barely be described, he spread his arms and bowed low before Saint Nicholas many times, thanking him repeatedly for the goodness he had shown to him. Then I greeted the goldsmith and he returned my greeting, and I asked him how it was that he had so quickly completed this horrible penance, which I could see that he must have endured by the state he was in. And he answered:
'My dear friend. You all had me down as lost and damned, not understanding the goodness and mercy of my lord, Saint Nicholas here, who would not allow me, an unhappy and worthless servant of his, to be damned and lost for evermore.'
I replied: 'As you say, all of us who were your friends, as well as being very sorry to hear of your death, were a little distressed, it must be said, imagining that you would be damned forever, and not least because you had died before receiving any chance of help from the holy sacraments of the Church. So I am delighted to find you in a situation that is not at all as terrible as we feared, and I would love to know how it is that you died in that way and yet have escaped eternal damnation.'
'I will tell you,' he replied.
'You well know how I lived when I was alive. I was an alcoholic, and remained so until my last end. But this was often against my will, for my drinking displeased me greatly. It pained me that I could not leave the bottle alone. I rose against myself many times, determined to drink my wine with moderation and to cast off the terrible urge towards drunkenness that held me in its grip. But what with the compelling desire to become intoxicated and some persistent and demanding friends whom I drank with, I was always drawn back into the old ways and found myself unable to escape from them. And amongst all this woe, by the mercy of God, who desires no man to be destroyed, I found solace in my devotion to the most blessed lord Saint Nicholas, whose hand now graciously leads you and in whose parish I also served. I never let any opportunity pass that might allow me to worship him as devoutly as I could. And however much I drank, even to the point of inebriation, I made sure that I attended Matins. I would always turn up and sometimes even arrive before the parish priest! I had a candle burning continually in the chapel of Saint Nicholas, at my own expense. And everything necessary to ornament a church, such as lights and other things, I would cause to be obtained, as though I was an officer of the Church. And when my own wealth was insufficient for this task, I would coerce others, as necessity dictated. I received all their gifts and put them to good use, every last penny. Also, twice every year, that is, at Christmas and at Easter, I would confess all my sins, as well as I could, to our parish priest and receive a penance for them, which I carried out for the most part. But I did not observe faithfully all the things I was required to, and often I could not complete my penance, nor protect myself from further temptation. One of my penances last year was to fast not only during Lent but during Advent as well, and of my own free will I added a period before Advent that would make the number of days before Christmas equal to those of Lent. And so on Christmas Day I received the holy sacrament of Our Lord's precious body and blood. But alas, for sorrow! When I should, on the days celebrating Our Lord's birth, have been holier and more devout than at other times of the year, I became quite the opposite!
'So it happened at the very last that the wicked angel Satan, who is the source of all evil, mocked me. And he would have brought glad tidings of my damnation had it not been for the mercy and goodness of my lord, Saint Nicholas, whom I shall thank for evermore, and all his servants; for as surely as I was to be damned and cruelly punished, so he meekly and mercifully protected and nourished me.
'On Christmas day, after Communion – and I cannot remember this without horror and a great weight of heaviness – my terrible habit gripped me again and I became very drunk, to the great injury and wrong of the dear Lord whom I had received into my soul so shortly before. And the next morning I went to church, as I was used to doing, distraught at my weakness and determined to drink no more that day. But it was useless. For later, when my friends all had drinks in their hands and the devils were urging me on, I became bereft of all willpower and lost entirely the strength of purpose that I had tried to grasp hold of earlier. And so I weakened and repeated all that I had done the day before, savouring my wine and drinking so much that I fell once more into drunkenness. And the next day, which was the third day of Christmas, I continued to drink heavily as though it didn't now matter, as though my wits had been taken from me!
'When night fell, I went from the place where I had been drinking, came home and went to bed fully clothed, with my shoes still on. I slept a little, then I awoke, thinking that I had heard the bell ringing for Matins and I asked my wife if she had heard it, but she said: 'No,' and so I lay my head down again, slept for a while, and then I died. And how I felt death suddenly come upon me I will tell you. There was, I know now, a certain devil who was the source of my thirst and addiction and he thought that if I died in this intoxicated state my soul would be his to do with as he liked, since I was already under his power. And also, he was afraid that through the merits of my patron, Saint Nicholas, if I lived any longer I might amend my life and improve my ways and so he strangled me – truly! I felt him go into my mouth like a toad, that same mouth that I had opened many times already that day to swill down wine, and he passed into my throat and down into my heart. And I knew it was a devil, so mindful of the mercies of God and of my own wretchedness, and with a steadfast purpose, I vowed inwardly to God that I would confess all my sins and utterly reject the ways of drunkenness forever if I could be given just one last chance! And on this I called upon Saint Nicholas to be my protector, with as much inner power as I could muster. Truly, for all this I was granted scarcely a moment, for the wicked spirit had sat upon my heart and was gripping it on all sides. I remember a horrible vomit and in the twinkling of an eye, he expelled and cast me out of my body.
'I was then carried through dark places by a cruel turmoil of wicked spirits who beat me, tore me, impaled me, eviscerated me and burned me, and carried me with them I know not where, but wherever they desired, towards everlasting torment. But then Saint Nicholas, whom I had called upon with all my heart as I had died, came and with his great strength delivered me from their abominable hands and set me here in purgatory. And although I suffer here, I can endure it gladly since I have no fear of the wicked spirits and their unspeakable cruelty, for they are gone. And now I am absolutely certain that I will achieve rest and Everlasting Joy through my lord and advocate Saint Nicholas, whom I prayed to and worshipped while I lived. And when I find torments to be unendurable, he comes to me and comforts me and brings me relief from my pain. For in the profession by which I supported my family and myself, I often, when I first started out, used deception and beguilement through fear of poverty, and for this I have been bitterly punished also, and that punishment has only recently ended. Often I was thrown down headlong into a pile of red-hot coins and left there to burn. I was compelled to swallow fiery pennies and feel my stomach ignite intolerably within me. And I was made to touch and count the burning money and to suffer agonies in my fingers and my hands. And through the heat and the thirst all my internal organs and my flesh began to shrivel and die.'
The goldsmith told me all this, and much more, as clearly as might be told by any man living in his body.
And there is something also which he said that I shall not hide from you, concerning an observation that I had made. I had already observed that there were countless people there who had died suddenly and were being punished very severely, and many of these had contemplated a sinful act, and when they had come to carry out whatever wicked thing it was that they had decided to do and had thought: 'Now I shall have some fun!' each one of them had been forced immediately by the will of God to endure the utmost penance and punishment for this thought, that is, to suffer death for it. As the gospel says: 'Fool! Lo!—your soul has been snatched from you! Why have you plotted against God and against yourself?'
Nevertheless, as it was told to me, when they were struck down, if they showed any remorse and sought to correct their faults, and if they were given any time to pray for God's mercy and forgiveness and for the help of all his holy saints before their swift departure, their death might be an occasion of great cleansing instead, for their sins should otherwise have led them to places of great suffering and torment. Furthermore, I asked this goldsmith, whose condition I have been describing, if there was any way of mitigating and avoiding such a sudden death. And he told me this:
'Honestly,' he said, 'if I had known when I was alive what I do now, I would have told everybody how it is possible to avoid sudden death. I would have spread the word about. How people should every day paint two words upon their foreheads and upon their hearts, with a finger or in any other way. Two words that contain the health and salvation of mankind, and that is Jesus Nazarenus. Jesus of Nazareth. Without doubt this will protect all true believers from the perils of sudden death. And after death these same words shall remain within their hearts and upon their foreheads, as a sign of their faith and of their worship.
'My family kept my body unburied for two days after my death, hoping that, because my face had retained its redness and a certain heat, that I might revive. But doubtless this was due to the sheer quantity of wine that I had drunk, for my departing from this world was so swift and so sudden that my soul passed from my body before my wife had even guessed that something was wrong and sent for the priest.'
These things I was truly told by this goldsmith. And fifteen days after I received this vision, that is, a fortnight after Easter weekend, one of the goldsmith's surviving sons, a certain young man, came to me in a very distressed state and told me that his mother had seen a ghostly apparition of his father three nights in a row as she was awake praying in their bedroom. The apparition had instructed her to come to me and to learn from me how things were with him; for knowing this she might find more comfort and a greater confidence in knowing that her prayers were not being wasted, and she would be better able to guide her family and herself towards God. And this young man revealed also, with great sincerity, that when his father had appeared for the third time he heard him speaking for a long while with his mother, who was questioning him and at other times answering. 'And then afterwards,' he said, 'she explained to me what had passed between them. She told me that my father was angry because she had disregarded his wishes and that he had already appeared to her and asked her to do a little thing for him that she was reluctant to do, because she did not fully understand or trust his visitation and was afraid of being deceived and beguiled.'
The ghost had asked her to go at once and remind me to speak to her of the things that he had told me, about how much Saint Nicholas has helped him. For the goldsmith asked me very insistently that I should urge his wife and his son on his behalf to keep up their devotion to Saint Nicholas, as he had done himself for many years, and not to let any occasion pass without the proper service being performed; and more than this, to improve and amend their lives by serving diligently and worshipping daily, more and more, his patron and protector Saint Nicholas.
This goldsmith had died about fifteen months before, during which time, by the merits of his patron Saint Nicholas, he was hurried with great torment but with such speed that scarcely did I see any other soul that had gained so much in so short a time. Therefore it profits one a great deal, whilst one lives in this world, devoutly to serve the holy servants of God, that is to say, the saints, so that one may receive in times of great need the grace and mercy of Almighty God, as has been well recorded and shown here.
Now let me describe, as far as I am able, the third place of purgatory, which I saw with my protector, Saint Nicholas.
In terms of cruelty and deadly torture this place exceeds, by far, anything that can be conceived by a man's mind. Truly, the magnitude of evil to be found here, no man can begin to tell the least of it. The great ghastliness of the place is all the more clearly and soberly remembered because I had by my side the holy bishop and confessor Saint Nicholas, whom I especially worship and love. Truly, the more I showed my affection for him the surer he made me feel in his fellowship and company, so that I might endure the sight of such horrible tortures, so gruesome that I cannot now remember them without feelings of repugnance and sheer horror; but I was made to feel in all ways safe by having him at my side.
Leaving the second place of purgatory that I have described, we came to a wide expanse of low ground that seemed to be cut off on all sides from any of the other regions, so that no one might enter except to be punished. Hanging above the field was a cloud of toxic fumes, like a dense and asphyxiating fog and mixed with this nauseating sulphur stench were black flames that spread through the air and rose and fell like hills. And the ground was as full of snakes as a floor is spread about with straws and rushes and they were horrible beyond description, breathtakingly ugly, expelling fire from their nostrils. With a voracious appetite they bit at every wretched person they could find, bit them to the bone! Devils ran about, inflicting further cruel torments, using red-hot instruments on every bodily member – and I mean every one! – tearing flesh away, then casting the wretched souls into a fire where they were made liquid, like molten metal, then they were removed from the fire as though they were fire itself.
What I can tell you describes barely a hundredth part of the horrors that I witnessed. For in a short time I saw a diversity of tortures, and each wretch consumed and reduced almost to nothing and then restored once more to life. Each lost life was compelled to suffer cruel agonies, to be reduced almost to nothing and then made whole again. There was no end to this cycle of agonies and restorations and the heat of the fire was so intense that it consumed everything, and the snakes that were there died and disintegrated and were gathered into great heaps and laid underneath the unhappy sinful wretches where they rotted and putrefied and gave out such a dreadful stench of death that it exceeded all the pains and torments that I have been able to describe thus far.
And yet there is one thing which they were all compelled to suffer, one thing more hateful and more painful and shameful than anything I have yet described. Because all those who were being punished here had in this world committed that foul sin which should go unnamed, both by Christian men and by heathen men. Great monsters, that is to say, huge, unnaturally-shaped beasts appeared in the likeness of fire – it was horrible to see! – and they came upon them, both men and women, compelling each to stroke their sexual organs and to suffer foul and damnable abuse! I abhor this and I am ashamed to speak of it, and each soul yelled and cried out and collapsed as though it was dead, but they were quickly picked up and taken to where they should suffer more abuse.
And in all honesty I had no inkling that such things take place in our own time, in the heart of Christendom, and amongst women! I had never heard, nor had any suspicion, that women could be made foul and depraved by this heinous sin – women! Women who should naturally have more shame! I did not at the time recall the words of Saint Paul concerning such people, where he condemns that foul sin both in men and in women. But alas, for sorrow, there was a crowd of such women here, as innumerable as they were miserable. I did not recognise many there that I knew, and did not look very hard, to be honest, what for the stench and the horror of it all. It was hateful to me to spend a moment longer there than I had to, although I was protected from feeling the pain and experiencing the full ghastliness of it, but I was able to imagine what it must be like from what I was seeing. And those wretches who were suffering through every sense and every screaming nerve, cried out their sorrowful lamentations as they suffered the agonies of their various punishments. They screamed so loudly that one would have thought they could have been heard throughout all the world!
A Doctor of Law who was a bugger
Although I was very reluctant to see any more of this place than I had to, I could not avoid speaking to a cleric whom I had once known. This clergyman, whilst he was alive, had been a Doctor of Law and had been highly regarded by his colleagues; he had taught and ordained many able young men, thereby widening his social circle and numbered many esteemed scholars amongst his friends. He was greatly endowed with rents and benefices of the Church and yet he hungered after more. And by the will of God, who likes all men to seek penance for their sins, he became ill and was not at all well for about nine months. And afterwards he made the vain presumption that he was fully fit once more but neglected to confess his sins, and especially those of his foul and unclean lifestyle, thereby paying no regard to his soul, which should be the first deed of almsgiving that a man should do. Neither did he have any compassion for the poor, nor did he pay any regard to God's holy saints, as in offering his services to them in return for the redemption of his sins, nor did he seek to give away any of his property to the needy. Then that heavenly doctor, Our Saviour, seeing that this man had not taken any heed of the warning given to him and had found no remedy in the spititual medicine He had administered, but had persisted in the sickness of an unclean life, had mercifully brought this young man's life to an end. What greater mercy can be shown to such an impenitent heart? For no man may live such a life and see the increasing burden of his sins grow and grow without expecting his time in this world to be mercifully shortened. For what could be of more benefit to a man intent upon wounding himself than that his sword be taken away from him and put out of use?
I had no idea that this cleric, whom I had known during my childhood, was dead, for he had moved away from the district. But in all that vast place of torment and pain I found him and marvelled, for I believed him still to be alive and living honestly. I spoke to him and asked if he cherished any hope of receiving God's mercy.
He replied: 'I shall have no mercy before the Day of Judgment. And whether I shall have any then, I am not certain, for my torture here is getting worse and worse!'
Then I asked him: 'Why did you not confess your sins to a priest as you lay dying, and begin penance for them?'
He replied: 'Because I did not believe my life to be in any danger and I was too ashamed to confess such a heinous sin and thus lose my good reputation amongst those who looked up to me. I confessed small misdemeanours to a priest whom you know, but he could scarcely have been back at his church before I felt myself dying. He was called once more but when he arrived, it was too late. I was gone. And none of the thousand tortures that I endure daily in this place is as distressing to me as the shameful practice of this unclean act that I have to suffer. And besides the horror of my situation, I have to bear the shame that I must seem cursed and abominable in the sight of all men. Alas! Who would have guessed that the favour and admiration that was once extended to me could turn to such confusion and contempt. I am ashamed! I, who once appeared to every man to be honourable and magnificent, am now revealed to be foul and abhorrent!'
He said all of this whilst crying and weeping, and I marvelled at the harsh and innumerable punishments that were daily meted out to a man who had once been so celebrated and highly esteemed. And I asked Saint Nicholas whether this man's predicament might be remedied or helped in any way.
Saint Nicholas answered: 'When Doomsday arrives, then Christ's will shall be done. He alone knows the heart of every man, and only He can be the final judge.'
I can only guess, therefore, at this man's fate. Many of the souls I saw had been helped by the generous deeds they had done when they were alive. This cleric, when he was on Earth, was intelligent and witty, but he thought only about himself and didn't do any good works for his sins, and it had brought him to the brink of damnation!
Take note of this and what I have related just now of the goldsmith also. See how it openly confirms Holy Scripture where it is written: 'Mighty men shall suffer mightily, but the meek will find mercy.' The goldsmith, although he was a sinner, did not let his wealth and intelligence lead to presumption, nor to delusions of self-importance. He was always aware of his own shortcomings and through his generosity towards the Church and the needy, and the services he offered to his patron saint, he received help in time of need and found mercy and relief from Saint Nicholas. But in contrast, this brilliant cleric persisted in his wickedness although he had wealth and respect in abundance, and because he thought himself to be above the ordinary man and exempt from the common toil, he is punished for it in a place that is set apart.
I saw his tongue hanging out of his head and burning, and this was because he had often perverted the truth, as a skilled orator is able to, who takes bribes and solicits unnatural sexual favours. And he used not only to spread untruths but to weave a web of intrigue and to openly lie. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that he was punished for his excesses and his faults, since Our Lord speaks in the gospel of a rich man who, because he spread malicious lies whilst eating at dinner, was punished for them by having a flame burn through his tongue.
Shortly after I had returned to myself in the infirmary at the monastery of Eynsham, I spoke with the priest who had heard the confession of this false cleric, and I told him that the man had explained how he had sent him away having confessed only his smaller sins, and died before he could return. The priest wept and took God to witness that this was indeed what had happened.
I must tell you that, of all the wretches in this dreadful place that is set aside, I knew and recognised only this cleric.
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.
Now, regarding the comfort and solace of those souls who had completed their penance and had escaped from purgatory, I will attempt to describe the restfulness and everlasting happiness that they now enjoyed, as well as I can. For no man can describe it properly.
When we had passed these three places of purgatory, as described above, and seen the suffering that was endured there by many of those sinners, we went further. And as we went, a light seemed to grow, first a little, then more and more as we advanced, and with it a sweet smell also, until we came at last to a field that was full of beautiful flowers of every kind, and there grew within us an incredible and immeasurable feeling of pleasure. Truly, in this field were thousands of souls – an infinite number of thousands! – all happy and laughing and taking their rest after the trauma of their experience of purgatory. Those we came upon first were wearing white clothes, although these were not particularly bright nor shining; there were no stains nor any spots of uncleanness upon them, but as I have said, it was not a bright shining white. Many of these people I recognised, for I had known them when they had lived in this world, and concerning a few of them I will attempt to describe a little more.
A Vain Abbess
Here in this place I found an abbess of a convent whom I had known when I was a child. She had been dead for fourteen years and while she lived had been zealous in the pursuit of chastity and all other aspects of clean living. She had possessed a wisdom and a worldly caution that had stood the sisters under her care in good stead. I saw this lady on the very outskirts of this joyful place, for she had only recently completed her penance and her clothes were clean but not shining white. She seemed to me from her demeanour to have been sick or diseased for quite a long time and to have come straight from being bathed. And indeed, there were things, I learnt, for which she had been severely punished.
While she had lived she had not been able to overcome a tendency towards vanity and the seeking of acclamation for her virtues, as well as a fondness for encouraging and rewarding flattery, which is a trap into which many good people have fallen, through weakness and ignorance. And she told me that she had suffered penance because she had looked after the material needs of her blood relations too well, a fault which I have already recorded in others that I met. She had given them things that belonged to the convent over which she had presided, and had done this even when some of the sisters to whom she was a spiritual mother had lacked sometimes those things that are necessary to life and warmth.
When I heard her say this, I was astonished, for I scarcely knew any high-ranking religious person who had given less to their relatives than she had! In fact, she had been so frugal, as far as I had been aware, that she had withheld even the very necessities of life from her cousins. Her nephews and nieces, and other relations, she chose to bring into the monastic life rather than finding suitable marriage partners for them, and she had been especially strict towards them, even when she appeared lenient to others, and used to interrogate them to discover the slightest misdemeanour, and if she came across one, it would be punished severely. She had insisted upon faultless behaviour and strict chastity in all those who belonged to the monestary, but especially her relatives.
When I had said all this to her, and also that I knew of many in her convent who, because of the discipline she had insisted upon, had faithfully kept their religion, she replied to me:
'This is all true. But I could find no excuse, when my life was examined in the finest detail before God, for the worldly love and affection that I genuinely felt for my friends, when instead I should have been bound by my office and by my calling to pursue a religious and spiritual existence. My cares and anxieties communicated itself to my sisters, and they busied themselves with worldly concerns as well. I should have recognised this danger to the souls in my care, and over which I had charge, and I should have spent less time worrying about their material needs, for these are worries that one must necessarily relinquish when one is called to God.'
When this abbess had told me all this, and many other things as well, Saint Nicholas led me further into this joyful field.
A Prior and his Son
I recognised in this beautiful place a certain respected person who had been the prior of a monastery and had died three years before. He was among holy spirits and blessed saints enjoying a joyful rest, delivered from purgatory and exempt from all further penance, happy to be where he was and happier still in the certain knowledge that he would soon be seeing God. He had always worn the habit of a monk in this world, both on his body and in his heart, from childhood to his old age, and with meekness and patience he had preserved the flower of his virginity, maintained a routine of fasting and kept long vigils by the strength of his holy devotion. And when the duties of his office had sent him out and about amongst the poor and the sick, he would always be heard saying a prayer of some sort, or humming a psalm to himself. No one was more compassionate towards those in the grip of temptation than he was, and no one had been busier in their service to the sick and the infirm. He had never refused a reasonable request, if it lay within his power to help. And to bring comfort to those whose spirits were weighed down, often a single gesture was sufficient, a finger raised, a head turned slightly as though in admonishment for a lack of faith. And in the final years of his life, when he had lost the sight in one eye and his body was frail and his limbs weakened, he would still make every effort to be in the company of his fellow monks, in the church or in the refectory, where he probably gained more nourishment from watching others eat than he did from his own food.
He had, since a young man, been a vegetarian, but he would do his best to procure fresh meat if he thought that it would aid the recovery of others who were sick. And in the end, he fell very ill himself with dysentery. When it had almost brought him to his death, he took the sacrament of Our Lord's precious body and blood, and ate nothing else for ten days, intent only upon speaking his final thoughts to his fellow monks and awaiting the presence of God. And on the night before he died, he saw Our Lord Jesus and His blessed mother Mary, and by a gesture they beckoned him to follow. And soon afterwards, he called all his brother monks together, explained to them what he had just seen, and with much joy, he told them that he would die the very next morning. And so he did.
It would take too long to repeat to you everything that he said during those ten days before his death, but the words were not from him but from the Holy Ghost that spoke through him. And the morning after his dream, lying in ashes and in coarse hair, having heard the service of the Trinity and Our Blessed Lady, whom he had loved since a child, between kissing the cross and honouring the mother of Christ, he blessed his brothers and expired.
When I saw this honourable father, whom I had known since I was a child, I greeted him and he humbly returned my greeting and told me many things. In particular he showed me a young man, an adolescent who had devoutly entered the monastery whilst still a child and had lived for only a few years more before passing out of this world. I must admit that I had never seen the boy myself, although I have often heard the monks of this monastery speak of his pure and innocent living and the miraculous nature of his death.
The prior said to me: 'This is my son, whom I'm sure you have heard of. He was my fellow in prayer when he lived and he is now also my companion on this, our journey to heaven, and we'll be equal beneficiaries in Everlasting Joy and Bliss!'
This young monk, it is said, had told his fellow brothers before his death the hour at which he would be taken, and a heavenly melody was heard when he died, as many who were present will testify. It is true that the prior, through diverse omissions and small acts of negligence, both by himself and by the brothers under his care, had suffered a light penance, and the young monk also, as he had offended in small things. But they were both now equals in terms of whiteness and joy; although perhaps the prior, by the good deeds and virtues of a much longer life, had a hope of greater reward.
I also saw here in this meadow a respected priest who in his life had done much good through his preaching. His talent for persuasion, coupled with an energy, an innate goodness and a clean lifestyle had allowed him not only to save his own parishioners from sinfulness and evil but had caused innumerable people from outside his parish to understand that they should abandon sinfulness and follow Our Lord's commandments. He taught them how to spend each day perfecting a virtuous lifestyle and so, as a result, find happiness at the end of their lives. And some of those who took heed of his words had been deeply mired in evil, but through his prayer and teachings they had come to understand that they had fallen into the service of the devil, and through confession and penance, and by Our Lord's infinite mercy, they were brought again into the true faith and lived their lives afterwards according to Christ's teaching. But the reasons why he had suffered many light penances I shall pass over, because I would be repeating what I have already said before.
As we went further into this joyful Paradise, the light became clearer and clearer and the perfumes ever more beautiful and the people ever whiter and more full of joy than those we had seen before. All were destined to be citizens of the high and everlasting Jerusalem, by reason of their virtuous lives, and by being much less encumbered with worldly vice they had passed quickly into this pleasant place.
The Souls in Paradise
And truly, the things that we saw as we went further into this Paradise, neither tongue may tell nor a human mind conceive. Who can properly describe, for example, how in the midst of these worthy souls, the holy cross on which Christ had suffered His Passion was presented and shown to them! Infinite thousands stood before it, worshipping, as though Our Lord had manifested Himself again in His body! There was the meek redeemer of mankind Himself, our sweet Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, freshly nailed to the cross! All of His body was bruised and bloody from beatings and scourges, bespattered with spit, crowned with thorns and pierced through by great iron nails. His side was wounded by the sharp blade of a spear and from His hands and feet ran blood as near to purple as it was to red, and from his side oozed a mixture of water and blood. Beneath this great and compelling spectacle stood His holy mother, our Blessed Lady, Saint Mary, not in sadness nor in mourning but in happiness and joy! And there stood also the sweet disciple of Christ, Saint John.
Who could begin to describe how the souls crowded all around, to see this blessed sight? What devotion there was in those who beheld this glorious vision! What a multitude there were worshipping and thanking Our Lord Jesus Christ, and how marvellous to see their joy. Truly, remembering these things as I witnessed them myself, I don't know whether sorrow or pity or compassion or rejoicing was my greatest emotion. My mind was pulled in different directions at once. The sheer wonder of it affected my very soul! Who could not sorrow to see a body subjected to such pain and injury, who would not, with all his heart, have compassion upon the patience with which He suffered the torments of the wicked people who had put Him there, but what joy and comfort lies in the thought that by His Passion and death, hell shall be vanquished and the devil captured and bound, his power and strength destroyed, and that humankind, once lost, shall be restored again to grace, shall be taken out of the painful prison of hell and allowed to join with the throng of the Heavenly Angels? Who would not marvel at the great mercy and goodness of this immortal Christ, who decrees that His Passion and death, which he suffered in the world for the redemption of all mankind, shall be shown in a vision to the holy souls in Paradise, so that their love and devotion towards Him might increase and increase?
Suddenly, this blessed sight was taken from us. All the souls that had stood before the holy cross of Christ's Passion returned to their own places with gladness and joy. And I followed my lord and guide, Saint Nicholas, as we went further amongst the bright throngs of these blessed souls, replete now with joy. And the whiteness of those who were here in this place, and the beautiful perfume, and the sweet melody of singing, was inestimable and scarcely capable of human understanding.
When we had passed all these sights and proceeded quite a distance beyond, everything seemed still to become increasingly delightful; and as we became filled with an ever-growing joy we saw in the distance a beautiful wall. It was made of crystal and extended away on either side as far as to be beyond imagination, and it was so high that its top was hidden. As we approached, I saw a brightly shining entrance and a gateway that stood wide open. In front of this gateway hung a cross, like a sign, and a multitude of blessed souls were crowding around as though waiting to get through. The cross was barring their way, but then she was lifted up so high that she gave to those before her an open and a free entry. But almost at once she was let down again, preventing those who still remained outside from making the passage.
But how joyful were those who had gained entry! And how reverently they waited, those who had been left outside. I have no words to describe it. Saint Nicholas and I stood side by side as I watched the lifting up of the cross and its lowering down and the entry of some and the waiting of others. I stood and watched with great wonder as this spectacle repeated itself. And after a little while, Saint Nicholas led me towards this gate, his hand in mine, and as we came near to it, it was raised and all those around us began to walk through. My companion Saint Nicholas began to make his way freely with the others and I followed closely behind. But suddenly, and without any warning, the cross of the gate came down again upon our two hands and parted us, and when I saw that I had been separated from Saint Nicholas and that I was suddenly left alone, I was struck with fear!
Saint Nicholas called to me: 'Don't be afraid! Have faith and certainty in our Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be allowed in!'
My hope and trust then returned to me and the cross was lifted up. I entered. But of the light and of the clarity that surrounded me, let no man ask, for not only do I search in vain for any words to describe it, but I can scarcely recall it properly to mind. It was a glorious shining. Everywhere was so bright and uniform that it filled a man with such joy that he was raised far above himself by this great brightness. I have never experienced anything like it. But this immensity of light, immeasurable though it was, did nothing to dull a man's sight but rather it sharpened it, and truly, although it shone marvellously, of even greater magnitude was the delight and the sense of engagement that a man felt to be in it.
I could see nothing except this light and the wall of crystal through which I had just passed. From the ground up to the top of this wall were stairs, constructed with great skill and marvellously designed. Upon these stairs all those who had come in through the gate were joyfully ascending. There was no toil and no difficulty and no pausing in their ascent, and the higher they went the happier they seemed to become. Truly, I stood beneath and watched for a long while as those who came in through the gate immediately began to climb up those same stairs and at last, as I looked higher, I saw seated upon a throne of joy our blessed Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, seated in the form of a man. About him were five hundred souls, as it seemed to me, all of those who had recently ascended the stairs; and they came to Our Lord and worshipped Him and thanked Him for the great mercy and grace that He had shown to them. Some could be seen on the upper parts of the wall, strolling to and fro, but truly, I knew that this place was not the high Heaven of Heavens, where the blessed spirits of angels and the holy souls of righteous men join in the sight of God, seeing Him in all His majesty as He is, and where innumerable thousands of holy spirits and angels serve Him and assist Him. But I could see that without any difficulty or delay, the souls I could see on the top of this wall would soon ascend up to this high Heaven of Heavens, which is blest with the sight of the everlasting Godhead, where only angels and the souls of righteous men who have attained an angel's perfection can see the immortal and invisible King of all Worlds, who has no mortal manifestation but lives in an inaccessible light, for no man may approach it. Truly, He is seen only by holy spirits that are pure and clean, corrupted neither through body nor in soul. And in this vision that I experienced, so much happiness filled me that whatever may be said of it in words is insufficient to express the joy that I felt in my heart.
When I had seen all this, my lord, Saint Nicholas, who was now holding me by the hand again, said: 'Lo! My son, now you have seen something of the things that you wished to see! The nature of the world to come, all that is possible for you to attain, the perils awaiting those who offend and follow erroneous ways, the penance of sinners and the freedom from toil and pain of those who have completed their journey through purgatory, the hopes of those who aspire to heaven and the joys of those who have achieved it. But now you must return again to yourself, to your brothers in the monastery and to the world's conflict.'
And we went back again through the gateway, and I felt suddenly very depressed, for I knew that I must turn again from this unutterable bliss to the utter wretchedness of the world. Saint Nicholas told me what I should do and how I should behave while I waited for my soul to be called again from my body, in cleanness of heart and in meekness of spirit and with a diligent observance of all the duties of my religion.
'Keep the commandments of God at all times,' he told me, 'and model your life upon the example of righteous men. And if you do this, then, when your life is ended, you shall be allowed through this gateway once again, to live in their company forever.'
And while Saint Nicholas was saying this, I began to hear the most wonderful sound of bells, as though all the bells in the world had begun peeling all at once, chimes of all descriptions, creating a beautiful music that changed and varied and wove patterns of sound so much that I wondered whether the bells themselves or the beautiful melodies that they rung were more to be wondered at, and I listened intently and became so lost in the sound that it was not until it began to fade that I suddenly became aware that Saint Nicholas was no longer with me. I was back in my body. I could hear the voices of my fellow brothers around me and I began to come to myself again. My strength returned by small degrees and little by little I began to see through my eyes once more. The weakness and frailty that had distressed me for so long seemed to have vanished completely and I sat up as strong and healthily as I had before been sick and infirm. I imagined myself still to be in the church before the altar, where I had been honouring the cross in the early hours of the morning of Good Friday, and I imagined that it might already be the afternoon of Good Friday and I understand now that I had been unconscious not for a few hours only but for nearly two whole days.
And so, at the bidding of your devout holiness and charity, and as comprehensively as I can, I have told to you all the things that I saw and which were shown to me, whether in body or in spirit I could not say. And I beseech you meekly, with many tears, that you may undertake to pray to God for me, an unhappy wretch, that I may escape the grievous torments that were being suffered by those sinners whom I saw and attain the joys of the holy souls that I witnessed ascending to Christ, and to see for evermore the glorious face of our blessed Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and our blessed Lady, Saint Mary.
Many things have been said at the beginning of this account that make it evident that this vision was not made up but is truly through the will of God, who wishes it to be an instruction to all Christian people. Nonetheless, if there are any so dishonest or so sick that they cannot believe what they have just heard, let them consider the great frailty and illness of this monk, and how he so suddenly recovered to haleness and strength, transformed, indeed, into a very proof itself of the truth of the vision that he saw! Let them also remember the loud noises that were made around him and how his feet were jabbed and scraped with sharp needles and that none of these things had any effect on him. Also that his eyes were sunk down into his head and that he was not seen to breath for the space of two days. And also that after many hours of searching, the only life that could be found in him was a tiny throbbing in his vital arteries, and let them consider also how he wept continuously for many days afterwards. And besides all this, we know something else that is no less marvellous, in fact it is a miracle for certain and a sure sign of God's healing hand upon him: for he had, for almost a year, suffered a most dreadful ulcer on his left leg which had been exceedingly painful and had resisted all treatment. He described it as like having a plate of red hot iron tied to his leg! There had been no poultice, no ointment, nor anything else that a number of physicians had tried applying to it that would in any way ease the pain or cause the flesh to close over. But during the course of this vision, this ulcer had been so fully healed, by the power of God, that brother Edmund marvelled with us to feel and see how the pain had now vanished and that nothing of this ulcer remained, not even a scar or a discolouration, save only for an absence of hair.
From that time onwards, brother Edmund always said that whenever he heard a sustained peel of bells he felt the most exquisite joy, because it reminded him of the sound that he had heard when he was in Paradise. Truly, when he had come fully to himself and his fellow monks had told him that it would soon be Easter Sunday, he understood, as he heard the monastery bells calling everyone to the service of compline, that the ringing that he had heard in Paradise was in celebration of Easter, when our Blessed Lord and saviour Jesus Christ rose up bodily and visibly from death into life, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be now and evermore, everlasting joy and bliss. Amen.