In the year 1604 there lived in a city of Flanders two young students, who, instead of attending to their studies, gave themselves up to excesses and dissipation. One night, having gone to the house of a woman of ill fame, one of them, named Richard, after some time returned home, but the other remained. Richard having gone home was undressing to go to rest, when he remembered that he had not recited that day, as usual, some “Hail Marys”. He was oppressed with sleep and very weary, yet he roused himself and recited them, although without devotion, and only half awake. He then went to bed, and having just fallen asleep, he heard a loud knocking at the door, and immediately after, before he had time to open it, he saw before him his companion, with a hideous and ghastly appearance.
“Who are you?”
he said to him.
“Do you not know me”
answered the other.
“But what has so changed you? you seem like a demon”.
“Alas!” exclaimed this poor wretch, “I am damned”
“And how is this?”
“Know” he said, “that when I came out of that infamous house, a devil attacked me and strangled me. My body lies in the middle of the street, and my soul is in hell. Know that my punishment would also have been yours, but the Blessed Virgin, on account of those few Hail Marys said in her honor, has saved you. Happy will it be for you, if you know how to avail yourself of this warning, that the mother of God sends you through me.”
After these words he opened his cloak, showed the fire and serpents that were consuming him, and then disappeared. Then the youth, bursting into a flood of tears, threw himself with his face on the ground, to thank Mary, his deliverer, and while he was revolving in his mind a change of life, he hears the matin (time of prayer) bell of a neighboring Franciscan Monastery.
“It is there” he exclaimed, “that God calls me to do penance”
He went immediately to the monastery to beg the fathers to receive him. Knowing how bad his life had been, they objected. But after he had related the circumstance which had brought him there, weeping bitterly all the while, two of the fathers went out to search in the street, and actually found there the dead body of his companion, having the marks of strangulation, and black as a coal. Whereupon the young man was received. Richard from that time led an exemplary life. He went into India to preach the faith; from thence passed to Japan, and finally had the good fortune and received the grace of dying a martyr for Jesus Christ, by being burned alive. He was beatified in 1867.
Story from “The Glories of Mary” by St Alphonsus Liguori.