Franciscan Spirit Blog

Your Field Guide to Flying Saints

There are some saints who were so immersed in prayer that their feet literally left the ground. While amazing, this is by no means unique. There are many saints reputed to have this gift. Here are a few.

St. Joseph of Cupertino. This Franciscan mystic is the most famous levitator on our list. Rumors of his habit of flying during prayer became so pervasive that his fellow friars were worried he’d become a spectacle of strangeness rather than a model of devotion, so they discouraged visitors and hushed the hype. Even so, Joseph had to be transferred several times to avoid unwanted attention. A humble and pious man, Joseph often wore heavy iron chains, though it is unclear whether these were chiefly meant to ground him spiritually or physically.

St. Francis of Assisi. Yes, our beloved St. Francis earns an honored place on this list. According to the “Little Flowers of St. Francis,” Brother Leo would often visit Francis as he prayed on Mt. LaVerna. Lost in prayer, Francis would hover above the ground, sometimes a few feet, sometimes as high as the beech trees, sometimes so high that Leo could scarcely see him.

When Francis was within reach, the devoted Brother Leo would kiss his feet and pray for the gift of such ardor. You can find more great stories about St. Francis in Omer Englebert’s classic St. Francis of Assisi.

St. Alphonsus Liguori. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the reports that St. Alphonsus Liguori could fly is that this is not the most amazing thing about him. Author of more than 100 books, he was also a painter, poet, and musician. And he was a bishop. And he founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (the Redemptorists). All this was part of his second career; he had left a lucrative law practice to become a priest.

His zeal was not always popular, though. He suspended any priest who said Mass in less than 15 minutes, he sold his carriage and episcopal ring to benefit the poor, and the congregation he founded kicked him out.

The most popular writings of St. Alphonsus are on devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady. So, even if he can’t get you closer to the sky, he can help you get closer to heaven.

If you want to follow in the footsteps of St. Alphonsus, you can learn more about Our Lady in the timely Our Lady of Fatima, or the inspiring Mother Mary.

St. Teresa of Avila. The original flying nun, Teresa of Avila was so prone to floating in midair that her sisters were sternly instructed to yank her down to the floor at the first sign of levitation. She would even weigh herself down with stones, to no avail. But Teresa was no lightweight. Founder of 17 reformed convents, she was savvy enough to pen deep theological works while steering clear of the flourishing Inquisition. She is the object of devotion for saints and sinners alike—Francisco Franco carried a relic (most of her hand) wherever he went, and Bernini created his most famous statue based on Teresa’s own description of a prayer experience.

Interested in learning more about St. Teresa and other female saints? Check out Melanie Rigney’s Radical Saints: 21 Women for the 21st Century for more inspiration.

St. Thomas Aquinas. The author of one of the most comprehensive theological works in Christian history, Aquinas has been called both “Angelic Doctor” and “dumb ox.” A witness claimed to see the great saint levitating during prayer before an image of Jesus, who said to Thomas, “You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward would you have for your labor?” Thomas responded, “Nothing but you, Lord.”

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1 thought on “Your Field Guide to Flying Saints”

  1. Kathleen, I so appreciate your sense of humor in your descriptions! You brought a “lightness” (pun intended) to these wonderful saints, and even though they took to the air, you made them human.

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