His name was Joseph Desa and he was born in Copertino, Italy in 1603. At age 9, Joseph fell ill and developed gangrene. He was crippled and bed-ridden for five years. Trapped in his body, he began experiencing vivid ecstatic visions. He entered trances easily, especially when listening to church music, when his head fell back and his mouth fell open. The townsfolk considered him to be a half-wit. After failing at his apprenticeship as a shoe maker, he decided to enter a monastery. The Franciscans rejected him for his lack of education, but was accepted by the Capuchin friars as a lay brother in 1620. However, he was dismissed by the Capuchins when his ecstatic experiences continued.
He scorned by his family for his odd behavior and angry outbursts, he pleaded to the Franciscans Copertino to allow him to work in their stables. He did so for several years and so impressed the friars with his devotion and simplistic lifestyle that they allowed him into the order in 1625 and three years later he was ordained as a priest. He was then sent to the Madonna delle Grazie, Gravina in Puglia where he spent the next 15 years.
It was during this period when Joseph began to fly as his ecstatic experiences multiplied. He would levitate during mass and at other church events. He gained a reputation as a holy man from the people in the region. But he was considered a disruptive force by his superiors and church authorities. After all, people who could fly were considered witches by the Inquisition and Joseph was denounced and isolated in a small cell where he would have no contact with the populace.
At the orders of the Inquisition, he was transferred to Assisi (1639–1653), then briefly to Pietrarubbia and finally to Fossombrone, where he lived with the Capuchin friars (1653–57). He practiced a severe asceticism throughout his life, usually eating solid food only twice a week, and adding bitter powders to his meals.
He died in 1657, Joseph was beatified in 1753 and canonized in 176 as St. Joseph of Copertino. He is considered the patron saint of air travelers, aviators, astronauts, people with a mental handicap, and test takers.
Over the years, thousands of people witnessed Joseph levitating. Skeptics, however, Don’t believe it because they are convinced that no human can levitate. So they contend that the witnesses were exaggerating, that they made the claim years after Joseph had died. That he was an agile gymnast that leaped in the air…and finally that he ate poison bread that caused him to hallucinate and believe he was flying. Apparently, a lot of others were eating from that same loaf!
The 19th century psychologist William James once penned: “If you wish to upset the law that all crows are black, you mustn’t seek to show that no crows are; it is enough if you prove one single crow to be white.” Joseph is the ‘white crow’ of levitation. To paraphrase James: To upset the law that no human can levitate, it is enough if prove that one person can levitate.