Alvira, the Heroine of Vesuvius

Author: Augustine J. O'Reilly

Chapter XXVIII. A Vision of Purgatory—A Dear One Saved.

Like lengthening shadows of evening creeping over the silent ruin, death was fast drawing the shades of its final night over the austerities and the virtues of Alvira. The promises of St. Francis filled her heart with a cup of joy that rarely falls to the lot of mortals this side of the grave.

Vespers are finished at the Gesu; the organ is silent, the crowd have departed, and, in the mellow twilight of an autumn eve, we discern only a few pious souls crouched behind the pillars, or pouring forth their last fervent aspirations before some favorite altar or saintly shrine. Soon all have left, and the silence of the abandoned sanctuary shrouds the fabric in greater solemnity. The aromatic incense still floats in nebulous veils around the tabernacle.

A loud breathing, an expression of joy from a dark recess, announced the presence of some one still in the church. The sounds came from the quarter known to the pious frequenters of the church as Magdalen’s corner, so named because there was near to it an altar dedicated to the great penitent St. Magdalen, and because here St. Francis’ Magdalen spent long hours in tears and prayer. On the evening in question Alvira had remained longer than usual to commune with Almighty God. It was a festival day, and her soul felt all the glow of fervor and spiritual joy which at times wraps the pious spirit into foretastes of celestial happiness. The hours passed swiftly by, for fervent prayer is not tedious to the loving.

She pondered in her mind what could be the graces or favors promised her in the last interview with her spiritual director. Her humility had not dared to seek favors; she was still overwhelmed with the thought of the bitter past; more time for repentance would be the signal favor she would venture to solicit from the God she had so much offended.

Yet the mercy and goodness of God are more mysterious to us mortals when we consider them lavished in extraordinary munificence on the souls of poor sinners. When we feel crushed to the earth in our unworthiness, the forgiving spirit of God lifts us up and pours around us consolations which are the privilege of the innocent. Thus the humble Alvira little dreamt what might be the grand consolations destined for her; but the time of their fulfilment has come, and we find her startled from an ecstasy in the church in which one of the promised favors was bestowed on this child of grace. She described to Father Francis what happened with many tears of joy.

Whilst wrapt in prayer in the lonely moments that followed the Benediction of the Most Holy Sacrament and the closing of the church doors, she suddenly saw the altar and sanctuary disappear, and in their stead a luminous bank of moving clouds; they were white as the snow-drift, and crystallized in a flood of light like Alpine peaks in the winter sunshine.

These clouds moved rapidly before her astonished gaze, occasionally she saw through their rents a tinge of red flame that glowed in the fleecy mist like the crimson linings of sunset. The brighter clouds gradually faded; the flames became fiercer and more distinct; they seemed to leap in fury around the altar and sanctuary. Alvira struggled in doubt for a moment. Perhaps a real conflagration was consuming the tabernacle. A scream of agony was already on her lips, when the scene glided into a still more vivid reality, leaving no doubt as to its character. In the burning element human beings appeared writhing in pain; angels of dazzling brightness floated over the fire, and every moment caught the outstretched arms of some fortunate soul whose purgatorial probation had terminated; the angel would carry the soul to a distant sphere of brightness whither Alvira’s weak mortal gaze could not follow.

Suddenly there darted from the far light an angel clothed with the brilliancy of the sun. With the speed of lightning he plunged far down the purgatory fire; his brightness was so great that Alvira could follow him even through the flames. There the angel found a young, beautiful soul, deep in agony, clothed with crimson fire. A smile of ineffable joy lit up the countenance of the sufferer—the message from heaven was understood. The angel lifted this soul from the fire, and, pausing for a moment on the peak of a lambent flame, the angelic deliverer and the liberated soul, now became angelic in brilliancy, paused to look and smile on Alvira.

Her heart leaped, her soul trembled. She recognized the features. In a convulsive effort to utter the loved name of Aloysia, the vision passed away, and she found herself in the dark church and on the cold flags, weeping away the overflow of a heart too full of joy.


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Chicago: Augustine J. O'Reilly, "Chapter XXVIII. A Vision of Purgatory— A Dear One Saved.," Alvira, the Heroine of Vesuvius, ed. Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934 in Alvira, the Heroine of Vesuvius (New York: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1899), Original Sources, accessed July 17, 2024,

MLA: O'Reilly, Augustine J. "Chapter XXVIII. A Vision of Purgatory— A Dear One Saved." Alvira, the Heroine of Vesuvius, edited by Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934, in Alvira, the Heroine of Vesuvius, Vol. 22, New York, Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1899, Original Sources. 17 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: O'Reilly, AJ, 'Chapter XXVIII. A Vision of Purgatory— A Dear One Saved.' in Alvira, the Heroine of Vesuvius, ed. . cited in 1899, Alvira, the Heroine of Vesuvius, Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 17 July 2024, from