Did a woman named Eugenie von der Leyen — a German princess — actually encounter souls suffering severe purgatories, on a virtually daily (actually, a mainly nightly) basis?
That was what this aristocratic woman, a devout Catholic, claimed for decades.
The encounters were not visions or dreams; they were apparitions. And they occurred, for the most part, in two castles between Augsburg and Landsberg.
This was during the latter half of the 19th century and the first part of the twentieth, and the dates and locations bear irony because during part of that stretch, in the 1920s, Adolf Hitler — who would later ban the mystical princess — was in a prison just six miles to the north, where he wrote Mein Kampf before rising to the leadership of the nefarious Nazis.
Always prayerful, never married, Eugenia was known for her kindness and smile, which brought her popularity in the village. In youth, she had wanted to enter a convent but was rejected due to poor health.
That struggle — with her health — was, however, a small part of Eugenie’s suffering: For it seems the princess, daughter of Philipp II Franz Erwein, existed among both mortals and the departed, the latter appearing to her — often to her consternation, and sometimes stark terror — in the small hours of night.
The apprehension was due to the demeanor and appearance of some souls, who seemed to come from deepest purgatory in a way that could be loud and menacing. Some of them, apparently as part of their suffering — “wearing” their sins — looked like humans with animalistic aspects.
In her diary ( My Conversations with Poor Souls), Eugenie described one such visitor as resembling an “ape.”
The description of half-human, half-animal raises a cautionary: were all the entities the mystic saw spirits of the deceased — or might some have been demons?
Whatever the case, when it comes to allegedly seeing souls, Princess Eugenie was hardly singular in the annals of Catholicism. Famous saints such as Saint Catherine of Genoa and Saint Padre Pio also had such encounters, Pio once commenting he saw more spirits than living people.
On certain days, that may also have been true of the princess — a constant burden: dead villagers. Folks she didn’t recognize at all. Others from much earlier centuries. Yes, centuries: apparently meted long terms in purgatory (or wherever they now resided).
The mystic allegedly was visited by murderers, by a miserable local shepherd who had died, by a knight in shining armor, and even by a priest. Some she had known or heard about, and they seemed to be suffering at various levels of the hereafter — including what she recorded as “the abyss.”
“I saw the knight in the church again standing by the alter,” wrote Princess Eugenie at one juncture. “He is a giant of stature. Perhaps [he is] the man buried in the chancel of the church, found when new pavement was being made.”
A few of the visitors were deceased religious.
As Princess Eugenie herself recorded, “August 9, 1921, five o’clock in the afternoon, I saw a nun standing between two trees in the garden. Because she seemed to be waiting for me and I thought it was a nun I knew from before, I hurried to meet her.
“She suddenly disappeared without a trace. I backtracked to see if it could be a shadow illusion, but the space between the trees was as always.”
Usually the encounters were more involved than that, involving outright, she said, two-way conversations, which the Church teaches can be very dangerous (though, again, certain saints, at least tersely, carried on similar communication. Neither they nor Eugenie ever evoked the dead).
Some were just gray figures. Others were in fog. Most looked human. Still others seemed to bear those untoward countenances as part of their punishment.
Besides the “ape” was a phantom she called “the horrible thing.”
“I prayed in my fear and picked up the particle of the Cross,” she wrote in her diary, referring to a relic. “Then [the soul] stayed long and tall in front of me. He has shaggy black hair and hideous eyes,” she recorded, “constantly pacing back and forth.”
There were no replies from “the horrible thing” to questions Eugenie posed, even though the “soul” would linger in full view as Eugenie prayed (at times for more than an hour straight).
Animals such as dogs and cats would react to the apparitions, she noted. (More on the animal aspect in a future article.)
Others of those Eugenie described likewise sounded like evil entities, although she seemed sure they were souls searching for relief, often by way of Mass.
On occasion, it was turbulent; there was what she described as “storms” in her room. Crashes. Booms. Furniture scattered. Other times, souls would silently parade past her bed, causing her dread as she ardently prayed for them.
There was also one she called the “abomination.”
“Now I can clearly distinguish it,” she wrote. “It is oversized, shaggy, and black, snorting in a hideous way. I protected myself with the Cross particle and Holy Water. It stared at me — then went out the window.”
That seemed to be about the worst thing she had to suffer. Others looked like normal villagers, including one named Gebhard Heinz, who told her he was attracted to her presence when she received the Holy Sacraments. He’d often wake her for early Mass. When she asked him if he would soon be redeemed, he cryptically replied, “18 X 7.”
For our discernment.
“Father O… comes to me in a very sad state,” she said of the priest. “He was my religion teacher for a long time. He can’t talk yet. His sadness touches me deeply, because I was very fond of him.”
A woman she identifies only as “Z” was also a frequent visitor.
“What do you want from me?” Eugenie once asked.
She: “A Holy Mass.”
Eugenie: “Do you have to suffer a lot?”
She: “I am in cleaning.”
Eugenie: “Is that what you call purgatory?”
Eugenie: “What is happening to you there?”
She: “The longing consumes me.”
And so there are indeed very difficult purgatorial states, it would seem — if we accept the experiences as authentic. On one All Souls Day, a Dominican she also had known came to Eugenie. When she told him to have a good day, he said, “Christ’s Blood flows in torrents!”
Eugenie: “You mean the many Holy Masses?”
He: “Yes, this Blood leads us to life! I’m doing well.”
Eugenie: “Now you won’t come often anymore?”
“Can you tell me what helps my soul get better?”
“What I told you in life,” replied the priest. “The holy sacraments: Every day you must make yourself purer!”
And so it goes.
Even at the topmost levels of purgatory — which can seem like Heaven — there’s still suffering, this by way of the excruciating longing for God’s direct and constant Presence.