Saint Joseph Cupertino (1603-1663)
|Every picture of St. Joseph that I could find portrayed him flying high|
in the air--even in death. (Janet)
If Saint Joseph Cupertino had been our Parish Priest I would have denounced him repeatedly as a drooling idiot and and a drivelling nuisance. Cupertino’s biography was composed by an Italian author, Robert Nuti (1678). There is also a saccharine film about his life, Joseph Cupertino: The Reluctant Saint (1962). I chucked it in after seven minutes. I wanted to hang on in there to see him fly, like a charismatic Mary Poppins, but the dollops of sugary pathos put it past endurance. I must confess that the flying is, to me, the most appealing and outstanding attribute of this little known Italian saint.
My knowledge of Saint Joseph Cupertino’s existence is almost certainly down to a remark about him in a novel by Alice Thomas Ellis, The Twenty Seventh Kingdom. Set in Chelsea in the early 1950s, that is, in the kindgom in which I was born and spent my infancy, this amusing novel features a beautiful young African postulant who levitates. At the end of the story Sister Valentine saves the day for the bohemian scamp of a protagoness by flying off a London bridge. Sister Valentine is on leave from her convent on account of her habit of levitation (unless memory is falsified, but I think that’s the reason). As with Saint Joseph Cupertino, her levitations are an unwanted intrusion of the supernatural in the mundane world of her convent. The dreary side of Alice Thomas Ellis was her incessant and humourless moaning about the ‘New Mass’ and similar artefacts of the ‘spirit’ of the Second Vatican Council. The whimsical and attractive side of her Catholic faith in on display in The Twenty Seventh Kingdom, a novel novel, for which, though only briefly mentioned, Saint Joseph is a kind of patron saint. Here we see a Catholic faith unbothered by moralizing and solidly planted in the aesthetics of old holy cards. It is not easy to say what the real Saint Joseph Cupertino would have made of it. A minor Catholic iteration of the adultery-in-Hampstead lady novelists of her generation, Alice Thomas Ellis is also a minor foot soldier in the French legion of Greene, Waugh and Bernanos in putting a ‘failed’ priest / postulant (Cupertino and Valentine) at the heart of her novel. As with many characters in Bernanos’ French Legion of Misfits, Sister Valentine is a figure who fits into the worldly world very poorly, and yet whose flights of ‘fancy’ make the worldling’s world possible and endurable.
Joseph Cupertino seems to have spent his life shuttling between the Franciscans and the Capuchins, expelled from one to the other and back again after surpassing his confrere’s exacerbation thresholds by standing and gaping, going into prolonged ecstasies at the sound of a church bell or any other pious stimulant (he had to be forbidden from any contact with the choir, as a kind of preemptive trigger warning), forgetting the difference between brown and white bread (Franciscans like to tuck into their food), and above all, the repeated drift into floating one foot in the air. I always retained had the impression, from the novel about Sister Valentine, that Cupertino literally flew up to the roof of the church and flew around. But it seems it was just low level levitation, although even this proved sufficiently ‘inappropriate’ to attract the untoward attentions of the Inquisition.
Saint Joseph Cupertino was ranked as an idiot by many of his contemporaries and is much petitioned today by those sitting for examinations on account of his ability to spout brilliant remarks out of an apparently empty head. Saint Joseph Cupertino pray for us!