Levitation is one of the most frequently mentioned phenomena in the lives of the Saints. Many more Saints have experienced this marvel in addition to those who will be mentioned below. Some more notable Saints are St Benedict Joseph Labre, St. Angela of Brescia, St. Antoinette of Florence, St. Arey, St. Peter Celestine, St. Colette, St. Margaret of Hungary, St. Stephen of Hungary, St. Mary of Egypt, St. Joseph Oriol, Bl. Bentivolio Buoni, St Francis of Paola, St. John of St. Facond and St Martin de Porres.
St Joseph of Cupertino (1603-1663)
Certainly one of the Saints who is best known for levitating during prayer is St. Joseph of Cupertino, who experienced so many levitations that were witnessed by his brothers in the Franciscan Order and others that he is regarded as the patron saint airplane passengers. In Fr. Angelo Pastrovicchi's official biography of the Saint, which was first published in 1767, the author states that:
“Not only during the sixteen years of the Saint's stay at Grottella, but during his whole life, these ecstasies and flights were so frequent, as attested in the acts of the Process of beatification, that for more than thirty-five years his superiors would not permit him to take part in the exercises in the choir and the refectory or in processions, lest he disturb the community."
St Joseph was often enraptured into remarkable levitations, often being carried away by God for some distances. In the records of his official beatification process [Acta Sanctorum], seventy of his levitations and ecstatic flights are recorded.
One Christmas Eve the Saint invited some shepherds to join in celebrating the birth of the Saviour. When they started to play bagpipes and flutes, the Saint let out a cry of joy and flew a considerable distance through the air to the high altar. He remained in his rapture about a quarter of an hour. Although he was in the air leaning over several lighted candles, his garments were not affected. As usual, all present were astounded by the miracle.
During a profession ceremony at Cupertino, the Saint, dressed in a surplice, suddenly rose to the height of the pulpit and remained for some time with outstretched arms and bent knees. -Imagine the amazement of the religious and the congregation! One Holy Thursday, while praying before a representation of the holy sepulchre which was situated above the high altar and lit with many candles and lamps, the Saint rose in the air and flew to the altar. Without touching any of the decorations, he remained for a time until the superior ordered his return.
Another time on hearing a priest say: "Father Joseph, how beautiful God has made Heaven," the Saint flew up and "rested" on the top branches of an olive tree. He remained there in a kneeling posi¬tion for half an hour while the branch which "supported" him swayed as lightly as if a small bird had perched on it."
Once while passing through Monopoli on his way to Naples, he was led by his fellow religious to the church of the monastery to see a new statue of St. Anthony of Padua. After spotting it from a distance, he suddenly flew to the statue and then returned to his former place. After the Inquisition heard of these marvels, they felt the need to investigate and commanded that the Saint say Mass in their presence at the Church of St. Gregory of Armenia, which belonged to the nuns of St. Ligorio. Suddenly the Saint rose with a loud cry from a corner and while praying, flew to the altar. He remained standing in the air, bending over the flowers and lighted candles with his arms spread in the form of a cross. The nuns cried in alarm that he would catch fire, but he returned to the floor unharmed.
Certainly the most prominent witnesses to the Saint's levitations was Pope Urban VIII. During the Saint's first stay in Rome he went with the Father General to visit the Pope. While bending over the feet of the Pontiff the Saint became enraptured and rose in the air until the Father General commanded that he return. The Pope marveled at the phenomenon and told the Father General that he himself would bear witness to the occurrence should the Saint die during his pontificate.
To satisfy the curiosity of the Spanish Ambassador to the Papal Court and his wife who went to Assisi on purpose to see St. Joseph, the Saint was told by Fr. Custos to go into the church and visit Our Lady's statue. Upon entering the church he looked toward the statue of the Immaculate Conception on an altar, and flew over the heads of those present, and remained in the air at the feet of the statue. After a few moments he flew back and then retired to his cell."
Occasionally the Saint's raptures lasted six or seven hours. A peculiar aspect was that, when a rapture overtook him at Holy Mass, he always resumed where he had left off. Another unusual aspect is that his garments were never disturbed during his many flights whether he travelled forward or backward, up or down. St Joseph of Cupertino was so on fire with the love of God that one could almost always draw him into an ecstatic levitation by simply speaking of the adorable love of God or the Blessed Virgin Mary, or causing him to contemplate a picture of Jesus or Mary.
St Gerard Majella (1726-1755)
Like St Joseph of Cupertino, St Gerard Majella was often enraptured into remarkable levitations, often being drawn away by God for some distances. It was sufficient for St Gerard Majella to think of the perfections of God, to contemplate the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity or that of the Incarnation, to cast his eyes upon a crucifix or a picture of the Blessed Virgin, to be in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament or even some wonder of creation.
The following are a few examples:
Gerard, intending to spend some days at Oliveto, received hospitality at the house of the archpriest Don Salvadore. One morning, Holy Mass was about to begin, and Gerard, who desired to communicate at it, did not appear. They called him, they knocked at his door, but there was no answer. At last they entered and found the seraphic brother kneeling in ecstasy, a crucifix in his right hand, the left hand laid on his breast, his face pale, his eyes half-closed. For more than half an hour, the household of the archpriest gazed in admiration at the ravishing spectacle.
This hospitable home had already been witness of a still more remarkable ecstasy, in which the servant of God was suspended without support in the air. It had taken place on the very morning of his arrival at Oliveto. Gerard had withdrawn to his room to pray. At the dinner hour, the archpriest went himself to invite him to dinner. But to his astonishment he found the brother ravished in ecstasy and raised about three feet from the ground. Filled with amazement, he withdrew, but returning shortly after, he found him in the same state. The whole household, all witnesses to the extraordinary event, unable to sit down to dinner, awaited the guest with tears of emotion. At last he appeared, his face all inflamed. "Please do not wait for me," he said to the archpriest. "I do not wish to inconvenience you." To preserve the memory of this rapture, the archpriest marked on the wall of the room the height to which he had seen the Saint elevated.
A similar prodigy was seen by all the people at Corato. On Good Friday, 1753, a picture representing Jesus Christ Crucified was carried in procession. When the procession entered the church of the Benedictines, Gerard was already inside engaged in prayer. As soon as he perceived the sacred image of the Saviour, an ecstatic transport seized him, and before the eyes of all, he was elevated to a considerable height from the ground, his eyes fixed on the picture.
Yet another occasion is the account of a blind beggar who lived in Caposele who played most charmingly on the flute. Seeing him one day at the gate of the convent, Gerard begged him to play a well-known Italian song: "In all things, oh my God, I wish your Will, not my own." Immediately, a rapture of divine love seized upon the holy religious, and he began to leap, repeating the words: "Your Will, oh my God, and not mine!" Then, suddenly raising his eyes toward Heaven, he was elevated in the air with the swiftness of an arrow, and there remained for some time ravished in ecstasy.
This reversal of the laws of gravity, this super natural agility, took the shape even of an ecstatic flight. Gerard was returning one day to Iliceto with two young companions. As they were passing before a chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, he turned the conversation to that tender and compassionate Mother. Then he took a pencil and wrote, I know not what, on a scrap of paper, which he tossed up in the air as if it were a letter. At the same moment, his two companions beheld him rise in the air and fly with the rapidity and lightness of a bird to a distance of over three quarters of a mile. Afterwards, they never ceased to recount this prodigious fact of which they had been witnesses.
There were other times that the servant of God was favored with ecstatic flight. A pious person named Rosaria loved to relate that she had seen him one day carried up like a feather through the air, his arms extended. He flew thus for over three quarters of a mile, hastening to the convent to which he was called, no doubt, by some exercise of Rule or some desire of the Superior.
It is an intense love for God that draws the Saints ever closer to Him. In the last months of his life, Gerard sometimes heaved such sighs as to attract upon himself looks of astonishment. Father Cajone reproved him for thus drawing attention to himself, at which Gerard took the good Fathers hand and laid it upon his heart. The beating was so violent that after a few moments the Father asked him then how he was able to thus endure it. On a similar occasion, Gerard said to Dr. Santorelli, “If I were on a mountain, it seems to me that I would set fire to the world with these flames of love” then he took the Doctors hand and placed it upon his heart, which was beating with an unheard of fury, as if it were about to leap out of his breast.
St Paul of the Cross (1694-1775)
St Paul of the Cross, the holy founder of the Passionists was in the town of Latera, in the diocese of Montefiascone, and was in the sacristy of a church speaking with other priests when he became so inflamed with the love of God that he rose in the air, to the complete astonishment of his witnesses. Another time he was in a town on the isle of Elba giving a mission when, at the most fervent part of his sermon, he walked off the platform, through the air and over the heads of the people and then returned as though nothing unusual had taken place. One can only imagine the emotions felt by those who had witnessed such an unexpected display of the supernatural.
During the last years of his life the Saint was sitting in the sacristy of Sts. John and Paul Church in Rome and absorbed in holy conversation with a number of people when, as the deposition states:
"He began, according to his custom, to have his countenance lighted up, brilliant rays flashing from his face; then his whole body began to tremble; then, as I believe, he perceived that he was losing the control of his senses, he clung with both his hands to the arms of the chair, and leaned his shoulders on the back of it; as soon as he had done this, he began to rise, together with the chair, and that to such a height, that I think he must have risen at least to the height of five or six feet...in this state he continued a very long time in most sublime contemplation. Finally he returned to himself, and, as the rapture passed away, a slight tremor took place all over his body, and gradually the servant of God, with the chair, descended and rested on the ground."
St Gemma Galgani (1878-1903)
In more recent times there is also the story in the extraordinary life of St Gemma Galgani [the webmaster's favorite Saint!] when on a certain day Gemma was adoring Jesus on the crucifix while she was going about her household chores, when all of a sudden Jesus on the Cross came alive, and with one hand beckoned Gemma to come to Him, and then in a moment of love and joy, Gemma was raised off the ground and taken to Jesus, and embraced Him in an ecstasy of love. Those interested can read the entire story of Gemma's ecstatic flight to Jesus on the crucifix here.
"My Mother [the Blessed Virgin Mary] is very different. If I bring Her flowers, She says She does not want them. If I offer Her cherries, She will not take them. When I ask Her then what She desires, She replies: 'I desire your heart, for I live on hearts.' -St Joseph of Cupertino