X. THE FLYING MONK
As to the flying monk, there is no doubt whatever that he deserved his name. He flew. Being a monk, these feats of his were naturally confined to convents and their immediate surroundings, but that does not alter the facts of the case.
Of the flights that he took in the little town of Copertino-alone, more than seventy, says Father Rossi whom I follow throughout, are on record in the depositions which were taken on oath from eye-witnesses after his death. This is one of them, for example:
"Stupendous likewise was the ratto (flight or rapture) which he exhibited on a night of Holy Thursday. . . . He suddenly flew towards the altar in a straight line, leaving untouched all the ornaments of that structure; and after some time, being called back by his superior, returned flying to the spot whence he had set out."
"He flew similarly upon an olive tree . . . and there remained in kneeling posture for the space of half an hour. A marvellous thing it was to see the branch which sustained him swaying lightly, as though a bird had alighted upon it."
But Copertino is a remote little place, already famous in the annals of miraculous occurrences. It can be urged that a kind of enthusiasm for their distinguished brother-monk may have tempted the inmates of the convent to exaggerate his rare gifts. Nothing of the kind. He performed flights not only in Copertino, but in various large towns of Italy, such as Naples, Rome, and Assisi. And the spectators were by no means an assemblage of ignorant personages, but men whose rank and credibility would have weight in any section of society.
"While the Lord High Admiral of Castille, Ambassador of Spain at the Vatican, was passing through Assisi in the year 1645, the custodian of the convent commanded Joseph to descend from the room into the church, where the Admiral's lady was waiting for him, desirous of seeing him. and speaking to him; to whom Joseph replied, 'I will obey, but I do not know whether I shall be able to speak to her.' And, as a matter of fact, hardly had he entered the church and raised his eyes to a statue . . . situated above the altar, when he threw himself into a flight in order to embrace its feet at a distance of twelve paces, passing over the heads of all the congregation; then, after remaining there some time, he flew back over them with his usual cry, and immediately returned to his cell. The Admiral was amazed, his wife fainted away, and all the onlookers became piously terrified."
And if this does not suffice to win credence, the following will assuredly do so:
"And since it was God's wish to render him marvellous even in the sight of men of the highest sphere, He ordained that Joseph, having arrived in Rome, should be conducted one day by the Father-General (of the Franciscan Order) to kiss the feet of the High Pontiff, Urban the Eighth; in which act, while contemplating Jesus Christ in the person of His Vicar, he was ecstatically raised in air, and thus remained till called back by the General, to whom His Holiness, highly astonished, turned and said that 'if Joseph were to die during his pontificate, he himself would bear witness to this successo.'"
But his most remarkable flights took place at Fossombrone, where once "detaching himself in swiftest manner from the altar with a cry like thunder, he went, like lightning, gyrating hither and thither about the chapel, and with such an impetus that he made all the cells of the dormitory tremble, so that the monks, issuing thence in consternation, cried, 'An earthquake! An earthquake!'" Here, too, he cast a young sheep into the air, and took flight after it to the height of the trees, where he "remained in kneeling posture, ecstatic and with extended arms, for more than two hours, to the extraordinary marvel of the clergy who witnessed this." This would seem to have been his outdoor record - two hours without descent to earth.
Sometimes, furthermore, he took a passenger, if such a term can properly be applied.
So once, while the monks were at prayers, he was observed to rise up and run swiftly towards the Confessor of the convent, and "seizing him by the hand, he raised him from the ground by supernatural force, and with jubilant rapture drew him along, turning him round and round in a violento ballo; the Confessor moved by Joseph, and Joseph by God."
And what happened at Assisi is still more noteworthy, for here was a gentleman, a suffering invalid, whom Joseph "snatched by the hair, and, uttering his customary cry of 'oh!' raised himself from the earth, while he drew the other after him by his hair, carrying him in this fashion for a short while through the air, to the intensest admiration of the spectators." The patient, whose name was Chevalier Baldassarre, discovered, on touching earth again, that he had been cured by this flight of a severe nervous malady which had hitherto afflicted him. . . .