Joseph of Cupertino

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Joseph of Cupertino (1603–1663)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Among the most frequently cited individuals capable of producing paranormal phenomena, by both secular parapsychologists and believers in religious miracles, is Joseph of Cupertino. A variety of contemporary accounts of his levitations by highly reputable people became the bedrock of his reputation and eventually carried him to canonization as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

The future saint was born Joseph Desa on June 17, 1603, at Cupertino, near Brindisi in what was then the kingdom of Naples, now part of Italy. He was raised in poverty. As a child he began to experience ecstatic visions, and as a young adult he determined he wished to become a monk. However, his unusual experiences proved an initial obstacle. Although apprenticed to a shoemaker, Joseph applied for admittance to the Franciscans, but he did not meet their educational requirements. However, in 1620 he was accepted as a Capuchin lay brother. His sporadic and spontaneous movement into ecstatic states of consciousness intruded upon his assigned duties, and the order dismissed him. He was finally accepted into a Franciscan monastery near his hometown. Although not formally educated, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1628. His monastic brothers saw him as a person of extreme spirituality and possessed of wisdom derived from his visionary experiences.

Nonetheless, his activity did cause considerable problems of monastic routine. Over the next decades he was largely confined to his room and an adjacent chapel. He did not attend most of the daily communal devotional exercises and did not say mass in the monastery’s main church. As knowledge of the unusual occurrences attributed to him spread, efforts were made to keep him from becoming a public spectacle. At one point he was questioned by the inquisition, and on several occasions he was made to change locations as his brothers wearied of his unique life.

The ecstasies were frequent, but he also experienced still more spectacular events, in particular those involving levitation. One incident occurred in 1645 when the High Admiral of Castile, who served as the ambassador of Spain at the papal court, interviewed Joseph and then accompanied him to the chapel at Assisi, where Joseph then resided. Upon entering the chapel, Joseph looked upon the statue of the Virgin Mary and began to levitate above the heads of those present. After a short period in the air, he floated to the floor and returned to his cell without speaking to the admiral’s wife or others who had been waiting for him in the chapel.

There was contemporary interest in the events around Joseph. Those who witnessed his ecstasies noted that he was oblivious to outside noises save the voice of the monastery’s superior. He was on occasion hit, pinched, stuck with a needle, and even burned, but no such action disturbed his trancelike state.

Joseph died at Ossimo on September 18, 1663, and was buried in the church. Following his death an inquiry was started concerning his sainthood, which, due to the nature of some of the reported occurrences, took many years of scrutiny. He was finally beatified, receiving one step toward canonization, in 1753 by Pope Benedict XIV. The pope had obviously been deeply affected by his reading of the many eyewitness accounts of Joseph’s levitations. He argued that if such evidence was rejected, no historical evidence could ever be accepted. In 1767 Pope Clement XIII named Joseph a saint.

Today, parapsychologists point to Joseph as possibly the best instance of repeated levitations, while skeptics have grounded their arguments on the seeming inability of reproducing Joseph’s feats in a contemporary setting. While levitations of a number of saints have been reported, none approach the number (some 70 occasions) and the credible eyewitnesses of Joseph’s. The only person who nears his feats of levitation is Spiritualist Daniel Dunglas Home(1833–1886).

In 1962 a movie called The Reluctant Saint, starring Maximilian Schell, portrayed Joseph of Cupertino’s life.


Betz, Eva K. Another Man Named Joseph: The Life of Saint Joseph of Cupertino. Greymoor, NY: Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, 1965.
Cendrars, Blaise. Saint Joseph de Cupertino. Villiers le Bel: Le Club du Livre Chrétien, 1960.
Leroy, Olivier. Levitation: An Examination of the Evidence and Explanations. London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1928.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Neither was the Catholic Saint Joseph of Cupertino, who would levitate whenever he would pray or meditate.
Flying friar Saint Joseph of Cupertino was always getting told off for levitating during Mass and now a Belgian nun's acrobatic dancing with a missionary has earned her a reprimand from her mother superior.
Some healed the sick, others devoted their lives to preaching and some ( like Saint Joseph of Cupertino ( floated through the air in front of the Pope.