Saints and Levitation

There are numerous saints to whom the ability to fly or levitate in spite of their weight has been attributed. Most of these flying saints are mentioned as such in literature and sources associated with them.

The ability was also attributed to other figures in early Christianity. The apocryphal Acts of Peter gives a legendary tale of Simon Magus’ death. Simon is performing magic in the forum, and in order to prove himself to be a god, he flies up into the air. The apostle Peter prays to God to stop his flying, and he stops mid-air and falls, breaking his legs, whereupon the crowd, previously non-hostile, stones him to death.[1]

The church of Santa Francesca Romana claims to have been built on the spot in question (thus claiming that Simon Magus could indeed fly), claims that Saint Paul was also present, and that a dented slab of marble that it contains bears the imprints of the knees of Peter and Paul during their prayer.

The phenomenon of levitation was recorded again and again for certain saints. Saint Francis of Assisi is recorded as having been “suspended above the earth, often to a height of three, and often to a height of four cubits.” St. Alphonsus Liguori, when preaching at Foggia, was lifted before the eyes of the whole congregation several feet from the ground.[2] Liguori is also said to have had the power of bilocation.

Flying or levitation was also associated with witchcraft. When it came to female saints, there was a certain ambivalence expressed by theologians, canon lawyers, inquisitors, and male hagiographers towards the powers that they were purported to have. By 1500, the image of the female saint in popular imagination had become similar to that of the witch. Both witches and female saints were suspected of flying through the air, whether in saintly levitation or bilocation, or in a witches’ Sabbath.[3]

Explanations
Some scholars believe that, at least in the case of female saints, that this phenomenon may have been related to anorexia nervosa. Many female saints are said to have lost normal perception of their own body, experiencing strange sensations of flying.[4] This explanation, however, does not account for the fact that most, if not all, accounts of purported flying among saints were reported and disseminated by supposed eyewitnesses of said events, not by the “fliers” themselves.

List of levitating saints :
Saint Alphonsus Liguori
Saint Archangela Girlani
Saint Catherine of Siena
Saint Christina the Astonishing
Blessed Christina von Stommeln
Saint Edmund Rich[5]
Saint Francis of Paola
Saint Francis Fasani
Saint Francis Xavier
Saint Gemma Galgani
Saint Gerard Majella
Saint John Bosco
Saint John Joseph of the Cross
Saint Joseph of Cupertino[6]
Saint Ludgardis of Tongeren
Saint Luke Thaumaturgus (Luke the Younger)[7]
Saint Martin de Porres
Saint Michael Garicoits
Blessed Miguel Pro
Saint Paul of the Cross
Saint Peter Claver
Saint Peter of Alcantara
Saint Philip Neri
Saint Theresa of Avila
Saint Thomas Aquinas

Notes :
^ The Acts of Peter
^ Montague Summers, Witchcraft and Black Magic, (Courier Dover, 2000), 200.
^ Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 23.
^ Bynum, p. 203.
^ Levitating Saints
^ Patron Saints Index: Saint Joseph of Cupertino
^ Saint Patrick’s Church: Saints of February 7

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