The Flying Monk
Joseph Desa was born on June 17, 1603 to an extremely impoverished family. His parents Felice Desa and Francesca Panara were chased from their home by creditors and had to give birth to Joseph in a stable while on the run. Felice would work as a carpenter while not being chased, a trade Joseph would become familiar with early in his life. A destitute young boy, he was not allowed much human interaction as a child because of his dull personality, sickly appearance, and hot temper. In addition, Joseph was notoriously absent-minded. Whenever caught staring into space, Joseph would reply that he was seeing “visions.” Francesca, a very strict Italian woman, would severely punish young Joseph for lying to his mother.
After early an early apprenticeship as a shoemaker, Joseph decided that he wanted to become a monk. At age 17, he applied for the Friars Minor Conventuals but was refused. Rejection soon became commonplace in Joseph’s life. After almost three years of searching in vain, the Conventual Franciscans of Grotella accepted him as a lowly servant. Although not intelligent or likable in general, Joseph was known for his passionate faith and, as such, was named a cleric at age 22. He started wearing an extraordinarily heavy iron chain around his waist attached to a large metal plate, which would tear at his body as he moved. It was around this that time Joseph’s early visions became more serious. His trances, often accompanied by high-pitched cries, could be set off by church bells, church music, Bible readings, holy pictures, or even saying the word God. They were so serious that not even stabbing, beating or burning him (those crazy monks) would lift his trance. Three years later, in 1628, he was ordained. This was when the preternatural side of Joseph’s life would begin.
The first recorded instance of Joseph’s flying was in 1645 during a visit from the Spanish Ambassador to the Holy See. Before they even got the chance to exchange greetings, Joseph beheld a statue of the Virgin Mary, screamed, and flew approximately 30 feet to the front of the church above the ambassador’s head. He knelt there for around five minutes, while the numerous witnesses stared in complete shock. Present were the ambassador, his wife, and four to six priests. Without saying a word, Joseph rose and returned to his room. Similar incidents were recorded during at least ten more masses.
As would be expected, the word spread quickly throughout the Catholic Church. Approximately two years after the first instance of flight, Joseph was called to Naples for questioning by the Holy Office. The Office, mostly out of fear, held him in Naples, where he was summoned to questioning a total of four times. The fourth time, after observing nothing too strange, Joseph asked to preside over mass in St. Gregory of Armenia church. Nothing out of the ordinary happened during the mass. However, moments after finishing, Joseph knelt down to pray. The churchgoers remaining, in addition to the entire clergy, were amazed when Joseph began screeching and levitating. Still kneeling, he flew at a height of about ten feet in the air to the altar, where he continued to levitate over two burning candles. The nuns present cried out that he would catch on fire since his robes hung in the flames. No such thing happened; he returned to the ground after a couple more minutes and was promptly taken to Rome for a papal investigation. While in deep prayer waiting for Pope Urban VIII to arrive, Joseph again began to levitate. The Pope, who walked in midway during this feat, later said that should Joseph die first, he would give evidence to what he had seen.
Numerous other accounts were made of Joseph’s amazing talent. On one occasion he was said to have flown in a garden to the top of an olive tree. Antonio Chiarello, a respectable priest, observed that he came to rest on a tree branch on the top of the tree thinner than a man’s finger. Later, during a religious festival, at least one hundred people witnessed Joseph grab the hand of the Father Confessor of the Convent of Santa Chiara and launch them both into levitation.
Perhaps the most extraordinary demonstration of Joseph’s gift occurred when he came across ten laborers who were ordered to carry a massive wooden cross to the top of the hill. Joseph took off his cloak and ordered the laborers to stand aside. After shouting, “I am here, Lord!” he ran towards the cross (which weighed hundreds of pounds compared to the gaunt figure of Joseph), grabbed it, and flew to the hill’s crest, where he placed it in the hole that had been dug for it.
In 1663, Joseph came down with a severe fever. On September 17 he performed his last miracle when he rose from his bed and flew, unconscious, to the chapel at the bottom of his monastery. The next day he died. Joseph was canonized a little over one hundred years later on July 16, 1767, by Pope Clement XIII. He is the saint of just about all things air related and students taking tests.