To understand the purpose of a purgatory museum is to understand the concept of purgatory. Purgatory is a halfway point between Heaven and Hell. It's a place for the souls of people who lived good enough lives to avoid eternal damnation, but not good enough to join the angels in Heaven. Prayers by the living can reduce a soul's time in Purgatory.
Relatives offer up prayers or pay for entire masses to be said for the departed. A tormented soul sometimes returns to Earth to ask for help. These visitations were rather common during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The spirit would appear to a relative or friend. Then, reveal it was in torment, and ask for prayers to shorten its time in Purgatory. As proof of its presence, it would touch its burning hand to a nearby object or clothing.
In Rome, a museum has collected these objects for visitors to view. The Piccolo Museo del Purgatorio or the Little Museum of Purgatory is housed in the church of Santo Cuore del Suffragio and dedicated to relieving the souls tortured in Purgatory. The structure is a ten minute walk from the Vatican. Most of the fiery signals date back to the 19th century or earlier. The museum doesn't receive any new objects, not that they need them to believe. One long case against the wall contains objects such as articles of clothing, bibles, prayer books, tabletops, and pillowcases with burn marks that look like they've been made by fiery fingers.
One such object is a slab of wood with an imprint of hand and a cross burned on it. Supposedly, the hand and cross was left on a table by Fr. Panzini, former Abbot Olivetano of Mantua. On November 1, 1731 (All Saints Day), he appeared to Venerable Mother Isabella Fornari, abbess of the Poor Clares of the Monastery of St. Francis in Todi and told her he was suffering in Purgatory. To prove his claim, he touched his flaming hand to her table and etched a burning cross in it too. He also touched her sleeve and left scorches and bloodstains.
The century old museum was the brain child of Victor Jouet, a French priest who traveled to Belgium, France, Germany and Italy, scooping up relics to display in this gothic church on the banks of the Tiber. He was supposedly inspired to build the museum after a fire destroyed a portion of the original Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio, leaving behind the scorched image of a face that he believed to be a trapped soul. Jouet died in the museum's only room in 1912, but the museum lives on despite talks of closing it in the 1990s.