Saint Joseph of Copertino.

Brother Joseph once pulled with him into the air a mentally alienated person who had been brought to him and, holding him by the hair, maintained him in the air for a quarter of an hour, which had the effect of curing the unfortunate man…

These levitations took place several times in the presence of important witnesses.  Notably in front of Urbain VIII, a sceptic Pope whose opinion is asked by the Holy Office, disconcerted by the Franciscan’s flying prowess.  This time, the scene verges on burlesque.  Joseph, very intimidated, begins by prostrating himself and kissing the papal foot.  But his emotion is so great that he soon takes off under the Holy Father’s astounded gaze and remains for a long time stuck against the ceiling.

The most famous of Joseph of Copertino’s levitations is doubtless that which took place before John Frederick of Brunswick, in 1649, and which struck this Prince to the point of making him abandon the Lutherian religion.

Among the other notable witnesses of Brother Joseph’s ecstatic flights, we must cite Princess Marie de Savoie, the daughter of Catherine of Austria, and the surgeon Francesco de Pierpolo who reported the fact in his Souvenirs:

“At the time of Father Joseph’s last illness, I had to practise a cautery on the right leg, conforming with the orders of the doctor Mr Hyacinthe Carosi.  Father Joseph was sitting on a chair, his right leg on my knee.  I was already applying the iron for the operation;  I noticed that Father Joseph was ravished out of his senses and in complete abstraction;  his arms were extended, his eyes open and directed toward Heaven;  his mouth was half-open;  his breathing seemed to have completely stopped.  I noticed that he had risen about twenty-five centimetres above the said chair, but was still in the same position as before the ecstasy.  I tried to lower his leg and could not succeed;  it remained extended.  A fly had landed on the pupil of his eye;  the more I tried to chase it away, the more it seemed to persist in coming back to the same place;  in definitive, I had to leave it there.  So as to better observe Father Joseph, I kneeled.  Mr Carosi was examining with me.  We very visibly recognized that Father Joseph was ravished out of his senses, and that he was also really suspended in the air as I have already said.”

Finally, on 18 September 1663, at the age of sixty, Father Joseph of Copertino died at Osimo.

On this day, it was his soul that flew away…


This flying Franciscan is so extraordinary that the Americans made him the patron saint of aviation.


Saint Joseph of Copertino once flew over the heads of church parishioners to land on the Virgin's altar.

The sources for this story are numerous.  The most important ones are the biography of Joseph of Copertino written by Angelo Pastrovicchi, the enquiry of Domenico Bernino made by order of the Pope, the relation written by the Prince of Brunswick, the correspondence of the Grand-Admiral of Castille, the memoirs of Princess Marie de Savoie, the souvenirs of the surgeon Francesco de Pierpolo, of Cardinal Fachinetti, Bishop of Spoleto and of Doctor Hyacinthe Carosi.  There are also the witness statements of the little people, shepherds, bakers, artisans, who had witnessed in astonishment the monk’s flying exploits.  In fact, Joseph did not only fly in churches.  Very often, as we have said, he levitated in the street;  a phenomenon which was rather popular with the passers-by.  To the point where at Petrarubbia, crafty businessmen opened hostelries in the neighbourhood of the convent in which our Franciscan lived, to lodge the curious who came to see his flights…


His entourage did not at all see him as a saint.  This person who took off unexpectedly all the time horrified his Superiors who found it disturbing.  To the point that he was firstly excluded from the choir, then from the processions and finally from the refectory where his ascensions were casting trouble and provoking hilarity.  A man who suddenly leaves the table and goes to stick to the ceiling, causes laughter.  One day, during a luncheon, Joseph flew up with a sea urchin in his hand.  Everybody laughed.  Finally, the poor man was sent away to Assisi.  And as his levitations were causing disorder there too, he was sent to the Osimo convent where he finished his life.


The Inquisition was watching him.  The Inquisitors were wary of this flying man and suspected him of witchcraft.  They made him appear in Naples before their tribunal and only consented to absolve him on the express condition that he live in an isolated convent under constant surveillance…


As for whether or not the human body is capable of flying, all that can be said is that among monks and nuns, more than two hundred cases authentified by witnesses have been repertoried.  Notably Saint Teresa of Avila who was not only a great mystic, but also one of the masters of Spanish literature and one of the great intellectuals of her time.  When she entered into ecstasy she levitated, and her companions recount that they had found her an incalculable number of times floating half an aune (around sixty centimetres) from the ground.  She speaks of this phenomenon herself in her autobiography:

“This extraordinary thing gave me great distress, for I feared that it would cause a lot of talk.  So, I forbade the nuns to speak of it…”

Farther on, she adds:

“It seemed to me, when I tried to resist a little, that a great force under my feet lifted me into the air…  I confess that this threw me into great fear, truly a very great fear, the first times.  When the body is lifted like that from the ground, the senses are not abolished.  I remained sufficiently myself to be able to see that I was raised in the air…”

She again writes:

“Sometimes I was capable, at the price of great efforts, to oppose a slight resistance:  but then, I was broken like a person who had fought a powerful giant.”

And Bishop Yepes says that he saw her one evening,

“grip the bars of the grille and let out moans of distress”,

before letting go and rising towards the ceiling.  Another time, she clung to the mats on the floor and was lifted with such force that she dragged them with her in her ascension…


To be continued.