The Church’s teaching is clear – Hell is a very real place where souls suffer in eternal fire. Saint Teresa of Avila, Doctor of Church and renowned mystic, affirmed this truth with her experience of a terrifying vision of hell.
“The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’” – Catechism of the Catholic Church 1035
In her autobiography published posthumously, entitled The Autobiography, Teresa of Avila describes a vision when she was in fervent prayer, and found herself suddenly thrust into the depths of hell. She believed it was shown to her by God to help her turn away from her sins. In it, she describes the sights of suffering lost souls, especially that of Lutherans.
Read below Saint Teresa of Avila’s account of her terrifying vision of hell from her autobiography:
“I was one day in prayer when I found myself in a moment, without knowing how, plunged apparently into hell. I understood that it was our Lord’s will I should see the place which the devils kept in readiness for me, and which I had deserved by my sins. It was but a moment, but it seems to me impossible I should ever forget it even if I were to live many years.
The entrance seemed to be by a long narrow pass, like a furnace, very low, dark, and close. The ground seemed to be saturated with water, mere mud, exceedingly foul, sending forth pestilential odors, and covered with loathsome vermin. At the end was a hollow place in the wall, like a closet, and in that I saw myself confined. All this was even pleasant to behold in comparison with what I felt there. There is no exaggeration in what I am saying.
I felt a fire in my soul. I cannot see how it is possible to describe it. My bodily sufferings were unendurable. I have undergone most painful sufferings in this life yet all these were as nothing in comparison with what I felt then, especially when I saw that there would be no intermission, nor any end to them.
Left in that pestilential place, and utterly without the power to hope for comfort, I could neither sit nor lie down: there was no room. I was placed as it were in a hole in the wall; and those walls, terrible to look on of themselves, hemmed me in on every side. I could not breathe. There was no light, but all was thick darkness.
Afterwards I had another most fearful vision, in which I saw the punishment of certain sins. They were most horrible to look at. I have read of the diverse tortures, and how the devils tear the flesh with red-hot pincers. But all is as nothing before this; it is a wholly different matter. In short, the one is a reality, the other a picture; and all burning here in this life is as nothing in comparison with the fire that is there. I was so terrified by that vision, and that terror is on me even now while I am writing,–that though it took place nearly six years ago, the natural warmth of my body is chilled by fear even now when I think of it.
It was that vision that filled me with the very great distress which I feel at the sight of so many lost souls, especially of the Lutherans,–for they were once members of the Church by baptism,–and also gave me the most vehement desires for the salvation of souls; for certainly I believe that, to save even one from those overwhelming torments, I would most willingly endure many deaths.”