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The Saints Who Levitated: Extraordinary and Concrete Miracles

Carl Sagan once said, “Ex­traordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Levitation is an extraordinary claim, to be sure. It is also a claim that is very concrete: it is something anyone can observe readily if it occurs. But unlike incorruption, its effects are not lasting, so we have to rely on eyewitness accounts.

As with all claims of the miraculous, the Church has been on guard against exaggeration or fabrication. Having direct testimony from the person who levitated, or from those who witnessed the person levitating, is very important — and even then, the Church keenly examines the reliability and motivations of witnesses. An example of this kind of investigation can be found in claims about St. Francis of Assisi.

Did St. Francis of Assisi Levitate?

St. Bonaventure was born in 1221, five years before Francis died. He entered the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans) and became the order’s seventh leader. While mostly known as a philosopher, Bonaventure also wrote about his order’s founder, including the claim that St. Francis was often found floating in the air during spiritual ecstasies. Reports from later writers echoed and expanded on these claims, saying that St. Francis would soar to the treetops and sometimes into the sky, where he could barely be seen.

The difficulty is that in 1245 (nineteen years after he had died), a detailed investigation into Francis’s life had been made by the Church. Authorities interviewed many people who knew him, and none of them mentioned levitation. So, either St. Bonaventure had access to materials that have not survived, or the stories of levitation were an invention that Bonaventure heard and repeated as fact. We are often led to believe that people before the modern era, especially in the Church, were easily duped or indifferent to facts, but the Church has, throughout her history, applied the best methods available to her to get at the truth of miracles.

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