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Levitating Saints

Saint Teresa of Avila

Saint Teresa of Avila, the famous reformer of the Carmelite order whose writings on mysticism are among the most influential in Christian history, had this to say about levitation in chapter 20 of her autobiography:

"Though rapture brings us delight, the weakness of our nature at first makes us afraid of it, and we need to be resolute and courageous in soul... Occasionally I have been able to make some resistance but at the cost of great exhaustion, for I would feel weary afterwards as though I had been fighting with a powerful giant. At other times, resistance has been impossible: my soul has been borne away, ad indeed as a rule my head also, without my being able to prevent it; sometimes my whole body has been affected to the point of being raised up from the ground."

Saint Teresa described her efforts to resist such ecstasies and their physical effects:

"It seemed when I tried to make some resistance, as if a great force beneath my feet lifted me up. I confess that it threw me into great fear, very great indeed at first; for in seeing one's body thus lifted up from the earth, though the spirit draws it upwards after itself (and that with great sweetness, if unresisted), the senses are not lost; at least I was so much myself as to be able to see that I was being lifted up ... After the rapture was over, I have to say that my body seemed frequently to be buoyant, as if all weight had departed from it, so much so that now and then I scarcely knew that my feet touched the ground."

Several witnesses said that they saw Teresa rise from the ground. In a deposition during the saint's beatification proceedings, for example, Sister Anne of the Incarnation stated that:

"I was in the choir waiting for the bell to ring when our holy Mother entered and knelt down ... As I was looking on, she was raised about half a yard from the ground without her feet touching it. At this I was terrified and she, for her part, was trembling all over. So I moved to where she was and I put my hands under her feet, over which I remained weeping for something like half an hour while the ecstasy lasted. Then suddenly she sank down and rested on her feet and turning her head round to me she asked me who I was and whether I had been there all the while. I said yes, and then she ordered me under obedience to say nothing of what I had seen, and I have in fact said nothing until the present moment."

According to her biographer and friend Bishop Yepes, Saint Teresa once resisted a rapture during Communion by grabbing the bars of a grill as she rose in the air, crying out for her deliverance from her ecstasy. Mother Maria Baptista, a Carmelite nun, said that she saw her raised from the ground on two occasions. And the "Acta Sanctorum" cites ten separate depositions from the saint's canonization proceedings of witnesses who described similar incidents.

Sister Maria Villani, a famous Dominican nun of the seventeenth century, described her own levitation:

"On one occasion when I was in my cell I was conscious of a new experience. I felt myself seized and ravished out of my senses, so powerfully that I found myself lifted up completely by the very soles of my feet, just as the magnet draws up a fragment of iron, but with a gentleness that was marvelous and most delightful. At first I felt much fear, but afterwards I remained in the greatest possible contentment and joy of spirit. Though I was quite beside myself, still, in spite of that, I knew that I was raised some distance above the earth, my whole body being suspended for a considerable space of time. Down to last Christmas eve (1618) this happened to me on five different occasions."

Saint Joseph of Cupertino

Accounts of Saint Joseph, who was said to have been observed while levitated on more than a hundred occasions, provides the most widely discussed evidence for levitation on record, at least among Christian ecstatics.

According to Thurston, the skeptical churchman's analyses, or "animadversions" upon the evidence, submitted to the Congregation of Rites on Joseph's behalf were thorough and searching. Any doubts Lambertini may have entertained about Saint Joseph were apparently dispelled, however, for he published the decree of the saint's beatification in 1753, when he was pope, and wrote the following passage in his classic work on canonization:

"While I discharged the office of Promotor of the Faith, the cause of the venerable Servant of God, Joseph of Copertino came up for discussion in the Congregation of Rites, which after my retirement was brought to a favorable conclusion, and in this eye-witnesses of unchallengeable integrity gave evidence of the famous upliftings from the ground and prolonged flights of the aforesaid Servant of God when rapt in ecstasy."

Thurston described other cases of apparent levitation in The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism, and assembled a list of levitated ecstatics.

ref. Future of the Body
by Michael Murphy

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