Sister Veronica Laparelli – Both levitation and bodily elongation
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
Found in the printed Summarium of the depositions submitted to the Congregation of Rites in view of the hoped-for beatification of Sister Veronica Laparelli, a nun who died in 1620, at the age of eighty-three.
Her ecstasies were very remarkable, lasting sometimes for as much as three days, and her fellow Religious asserted positively that on certain occasions she had been seen raised above the ground in prayer. 'While she was still living, a nun, Suor Marguerite Cortonesi, who, at a later date, was elected abbess, drew up a record of these unusual happenings, which is cited in the process referred to. One extract from this document runs as follows:
On one occasion, among others, when she [Veronica] being in the trance state was reciting her Office alternately with some invisible being, she was observed gradually to stretch out until the length of her throat seemed to be out of all proportion (parcva facesse una gola lungafuori di misura) in such a way that she was altogether much taller than usual. We, noticing this strange occurrence, looked to see if she was raised from the ground, but this, so far as our eyes could tell, was not the case. So, to make sure, we took a yard-measure 'canna' and measured her height, and afterwards when she had come to herself we measured her again, and she was at least a "span " [ten inches or more] shorter. This we have seen with our own eyes, all of us nuns who were in the chapel.
Again, in the same process, we have the deposition of a lady, Donna Hortenzia Ghini, who, in 1629, stated on oath:
Sister Lisabetta Pancrazi, formerly a nun in the same convent, told me that on one occasion, seeing that the said Sister Veronica when in ecstasy seemed taller than in her normal state, she took a yard-measure [canna] and measured her height, and that after the said Sister Veronica came to herself she measured her again with the said yard-measure, and she found that she was half an arm's length (un mezzo braccio) shorter; and this I know because I heard the said Sister Lisabetta say it, as I mentioned above.
The Promotor Fidel, or "Devil's Advocate," whose business it is in such cases to raise difficulties, professed to be somewhat shocked by this manifestation:
Furthermore [he comments] we may note a certain unlikelihood and incongruity in the fact as stated in the Summarium that on one occasion the body of the servant of God, when in ecstasy, stretched out and grew beyond natural measure, while other witnesses extend the same phenomenon to occasions when she was praying without any ecstasy.
He goes on to remark that this elongation was not only intrinsically improbable, but that it could serve no purpose of edification or utility.
It could not benefit the servant of God herself, and would excite repulsion and alarm rather than devotion in the beholder. These are very sensible observations, but they also go some way to prove the unlikelihood that the story was merely invented by the nuns without any foundation in fact.