St Joseph of Cupertino was a real-life Superman: he was famous for levitating – rising into the air – when praying. He was born in 1603 into a poor family in the village of Cupertino, a small village near Naples. His continual ecstacies in prayer meant that was almost unemployable. He was eventually accepted by the Conventual Franciscans and, following a period of time caring for the friary mule, he began his studies for the priesthood. Though these years were very difficult for him, given the time he spent in prayer, he was ordained in 1628.
Joseph’s life became a long succession of visions and his tendency to levitate during prayer became a cross. People came to see this much as they might have gone to a circus sideshow. Joseph’s gift led him to be humble, patient and obedient, even though at times he was greatly tempted and felt forsaken by God. The friars transferred Joseph several times for his own good and for the good of the rest of the community. He was reported to and investigated by the Inquisition; the examiners exonerated him.
Because Joseph’s levitation caused both public admiration and disturbance in a community, for thirty-five years he was not allowed to attend choir, go to the common refectory, walk in procession or say Mass in church, but was ordered to remain in his room, where a private chapel was prepared for him. He practised mortification and fasting to such a degree, that he kept seven Lents of forty days each year, and during many of them tasted no food except on Thursdays and Sundays.
St Joseph of Cupertino died on 18 September 1663. His body is in the church at Osimo. He was beatified by Benedict XIV in 1753, and canonized in 1767. In the investigation preceding the canonization, 70 incidents of levitation are recorded. His cell and bed and habit have been preserved in Assisi and can be visited today.