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Observations placeholder

Saint Francis of Paola - Fire handling



Type of Spiritual Experience


Friar Herbert Thurston was a Catholic priest, a member of the Jesuit order and an historian.  He wrote extensively on Catholic mysticism and psychic phenomena and was a member of the Society for Psychical Research.  He was also widely read on this subject.  He is described as ‘an honest skeptic’., and once said ‘the role of Devil’s advocate is a thankless one and does not make for popularity’.


A description of the experience

Friar Herbert Thurston - The Physical Phenomenon of Mysticism

Another striking series of manifestations, similarly assumed to be proof of the special sanctity of the holy man for whom fire had no terrors, is cited by M. Leroy from the canonization process of St. Francis of Paola. These have a certain special interest because this immunity from burning seems to have been habitual with the Saint, and because he also seems to have possessed the power of communicating the same immunity to others. A large number of incidents are on record proving his own insensibility to the effects of fire, and although unfortunately the evidence in most cases was not put on record until some thirty to fifty years after the event, still it was evidence given on oath and concerned with matters which are likely to have made a deep impression upon those who had been eye-witnesses.

 We learn, for example, from a certain Bemardinus de Raymundo that he had been sent by his master to a smithy to get one of his animals shod. A large piece of red-hot iron remained over after the operation, and thereupon Francis, who chanced to come in, asked the man if he had enough iron left to serve for another similar job he wanted done. The smith pointed to the bar which had been heated, whereupon Francis calmly took it up in his hands. They shouted to him,

"Father, don't do that. You'll be burnt," but the Saint replied, "By your leave, I am just holding it to warm myself."

So again, when a lime-kiln had fallen in, we hear of his sending the people away to dinner while he, single-handed, entered the kiln to repair the damage.

More directly perhaps to the point is the story of how two distinguished ecclesiastics who were charged by the Bishop to report on Francis of Paula and his way of life, began, in order to test him, by making light of the austerities practised by himself and his followers.

"It is quite easy for you to do these things," they said, "because you are a peasant and used to hardship. But if you were of gentle blood you would not be able to live in this way."

Whereupon the account goes on:

The said Brother Francis replied "lt is quite true that I am a peasant, and if l were not, I should not be able to do things like this." And as he so spoke, he bent down to the fire, which was a big one and burning fiercely. Filling his hands with the brands and live coals, he held them there while he turned to the Canon and remarked: "You see, I could not do this if I were not a peasant.". . . Then the Canon threw himself down before the said Brother Francis and wanted to kiss his feet and his hands, but the Brother would not allow it.

The incidents of this kind recorded in the life of Francis of Paula are very numerous. We hear of his putting his arm into a kettle of boiling oil, and on another occasion into boiling lye. We are told that when red-hot charcoal was brought him in two wooden trays to make a fire he carried off the burning charcoal in his hands but rejected the trays.

The source of the experience

Saint Francis of Paola

Concepts, symbols and science items



Fire walking

Activities and commonsteps