The flying nun: Saint Mariam of Jesus Crucified

Adapted from “Saint Mariam Baouardy: Extraordinary Mystic, Stigmatic and Victim Soul (1846-1878)” by Glenn Dellaire (

Blessed_Mariam_Baouardy_2                  Mariam_Baouardy_of_Ibillin

Saint Mariam Baouardy (also spelled Bawardy) was born in Ibillin, located in the hill country of upper Galilee, Palestine. Her family originated in Damascus, Syria; they were Catholics of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Rite.

The birth of Mariam in 1846 came after many tears and much prayer by her parents Giries and Mariam Baouardy. Prior to Mariam they had had twelve sons born to them, and all had died in infancy. Their grief was immense at the loss of all twelve of their children, but the mother had an inspiration: “Let us go to Bethlehem on foot, and ask the Blessed Virgin for a daughter,” she told her husband. “Let us promise Her that if our prayers are answered, we will name her Mariam.”

The husband and wife left for Bethlehem, at that time a very long trip of 170 kilometers, which they made on foot. There they prayed at the Grotto of the Nativity. Their prayers were answered and Mariam was born to them on January 5, 1846, and, as promised, they named her after the Virgin Mary.

When Mariam was two years old her mother had a boy they named Boulos (Paul), but soon afterward both mother and father fell ill and died within a few days of each other. A maternal aunt living in Tarshish took Boulos into her home; as for Mariam, she was adopted by a paternal uncle in her hometown of Ibillin. The brother and sister would never see each other again.

When Mariam was eight her uncle moved his family to Alexandria, Egypt. When she turned 13, he promised her in marriage to his wife’s brother in Cairo. On her wedding day, Mariam told her uncle that she  promised herself to God and would not consent to marriage. In anger, he beat her, and then obliged her to work as the lowest servant of the household.

Mariam then felt very lonely, and was befriended by a fellow servant, who was a Muslim. One day he attempted to convert her to Islam, but she professed her faith in the Catholic Church. He became enraged, pulled a knife and cut her throat, leaving her for dead in an alley. It was the feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, September 8, 1858. What followed was told years later by Mariam to her Mistress of Novices at Marseilles:

“A nun dressed in blue picked me up and stitched my throat wound. This happened in a grotto somewhere. I then found myself in heaven with the Blessed Virgin, the angels and the saints. They treated me with great kindness. In their company were my parents. I saw the brilliant throne of the Most Holy Trinity and Jesus Christ in His humanity. There was no sun, no lamp, but everything was bright with light. Someone spoke to me. They said that I was a virgin, but that my book was not finished.”

She then found herself once again in the grotto with the “nun dressed in blue”. How long did Mariam remain in this secret shelter? She later spoke of one month, but she was not sure.

Toward the end of her stay in the grotto, the nurse in blue outlined for Mariam her life’s program, “You will never see your family again. You will go to France, where you will join a convent. You will be a child of St. Joseph before becoming a daughter of St. Teresa. You will receive the habit of Carmel in one house, you will make your profession in a second, and you will die in a third, at Bethlehem.”

She bore a scar on her neck for the rest of her life. It measured 10 cm in length and 1 cm in width, and marked the whole front of the neck. Several cartilaginous rings of the trachea were missing, as the doctors at Pau attested on June 24, 1875. The Mistress of Novices wrote:

“A celebrated doctor at Marseille who had taken care of Mariam had confessed that although he was an atheist, there must be a God, for from a natural point of view, she could not have lived.”

Mariam herself later wrote: “After my wound was healed I then had to leave the grotto and the Lady took me to the Church of St. Catherine served by the Franciscan Friars. I went to confession; when I left, the Lady in Blue had disappeared.”

She was only thirteen and was now on her own. At first she supported herself by working as a domestic. An Arab Christian family hired her, giving her room and board and a small salary. She lived as one of the poor, with just one dress, and her salary was given to the poor, except for a few piastres to provide oil for the little lamp that burned before an icon of the Blessed Virgin. Her spare time she devoted to the less fortunate. During this time she suffered a fall that crushed her bones, but she miraculously recovered.

After about a year, hoping to see her brother, and especially desiring to walk in the footsteps of the Lord and to visit His holy places, she left her employment and joined a caravan that was heading for Jerusalem. In 1863, at age eighteen, circumstances led her to leave Lebanon for Marseille, France. There she found employment as a cook for an Arabic woman. Her employer esteemed her so much that she prevented her from joining the first Catholic order she applied to. She was rejected from a second one due to poor health from fasting, but was admitted as a postulant to the third, the Sisters of St. Joseph.

After two years, Mariam’s candidacy was rejected because her ecstasies and stigmata had aroused envy among some of the sisters. But soon after she gained admittance into the Carmelite order in Pau, France.

Her Ecstasies

Myriam had experienced ecstasies from her early childhood, but it was especially from the time she entered religious life that the phenomena began to intensify. When she was with the Sisters of St. Joseph she was found in ecstasy in the chapel, at recreation, and especially at night in the dormitory.

The ecstasies would sometimes occur suddenly, and at other times progressively. “There are times,” she said, “when I can do absolutely nothing, no matter what I do to prevent it, and at other times I can distract myself a little in order not to go off.” In fact she did struggle against the raptures. In her ignorance of mystical things she did not suspect the privilege she enjoyed, for she spoke of her ecstasies as “sleep,” and fought against “going to sleep.”

During her professions ceremony at Mangalore, India (1871), it required an order of the prioress to awaken her so that she could take her vows. In 1873, back at Pau, the prioress went into her cell after matins. Marian was seated before the open window: she was in ecstasy. She said to the mother prioress:

“The whole world is asleep, and God so full of goodness, so great, so worthy of all praise, and hardly anyone is thinking of Him! See, nature praises Him, the sky, the stars, the trees, the grass, everything praises Him; and man, who knows of His benefits, who ought to praise Him, sleeps! Let us go, let us go and wake up the universe!” She skipped out of her cell: “Let us go and praise God, and sing His praises. Everyone is sleeping, the whole world is asleep, let us go and wake them up. Jesus is not known, Jesus is not loved. He, so full of goodness, He who has done so much for man!”

A few sayings of Blessed Sister Mariam while in ecstasy:

“I am in God, and God is in me. I feel that all creatures, the trees, the flowers belong to God and also to me. I no longer have a will, it belongs to God. And all that is God’s is mine.

“Only love can fill the heart of man. The just man is satisfied with love and a pinch of earth, but the wicked man, with all the pleasures, honors, riches, is always hungry, always thirsty. He is never satisfied.”

“Pay attention to little things. Everything is great before the Lord.”

“The Lord does not want robbery in the sacrifice. Offer and give Him everything.”
[The virtue of justice requires that God be given what rightly belongs to him, so to withhold anything from God is a form of theft. – Editor]

“In heaven, the most beautiful souls are those that have sinned the most and repented. But they made use of their miseries like manure around the base of the tree.”

“Be very charitable; when one of your eyes sees what is not right, shut it and then open the other one! Change everything into good.”

“If you love your neighbor, it is by this that you will know if you love Jesus. Each time you look at your neighbor without seeing Jesus, you fall very low.”

Miraculous Levitations

We see in the lives of many mystic saints that an ecstatic, while in ecstasy, can be drawn a little above the ground through a supernatural and mysterious grace. However, Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified was one of only two, along with Saint Joseph of Cupertino, to make real flights. The phenomenon was verified for the first time on June 22, 1873 in the garden of the Carmel of Pau. Noticing her absence at supper, the mistress of novices looked for her in vain in the cloister and the orchard. Then another nun heard a song: “Love! Love!” She looked up and discovered Mariam poised without support at the top of a great lime tree.

Advised of this, the prioress arrived and confronted with this phenomenon she initially did not know what to do. After a prayer she addressed the little one: “Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified, if Jesus wishes it, come down through obedience without falling or hurting yourself.” At the simple word obedience, the ecstatic descended in fact “with a radiant face” and perfect modesty, stopping on some of the branches to sing out “Love!” “How did you manage to climb like that?” the mother prioress asked her. And she replied: “The Lamb held out His hands to me.”

Some of the nuns wanted to see this for themselves so they spied on her. One day a lay sister who was working in the garden was witness to the flight: “She had taken hold of the tip of a little branch that a bird would have bent; and from there, in an instant, she had been lifted on high.”

Eight ecstatic levitations were documented: Beginning in 1873 on June 22, July 9, 19, 25, 27, 31, August 3, 1873 and finally a year later on July 5, 1874.  On July 5, perched on the lime tree, she addressed the mother prioress: “I was on that one there and I came up here. Look, see, my slippers are still there.”

“Why do you rise like this?” the prioress once asked her. “The Lamb carries me in his hands,” Mariam answered. “If I obey quickly, the tree becomes like this,” and she put her hand close to the ground.

On July 19, 1873, when the order was given for her to come down, she hesitated a moment. She begged to be allowed more time with the Lamb. “No,” insisted the prioress, “through obedience, come down.” She obeyed, but the shadow of hesitation [to obey] had been fatal: the vision had disappeared. “The Lamb went away.” Sighed the sister, “He left me alone to come down.” It was with effort that she got down to the ground and for four days of grief she expiated that unhappy moment.

On July 25, the levitation lasted from four to seven o’clock in the evening; on July 31, it lasted from the end of recreation, which follows supper in the evening, until nine o’clock. This phenomenon occurred only at the Carmel of Pau.

In a letter dated February 14, 1927, Father Buzy, the Carmelite’s biographer, wrote the following statement to bishop Oliver Leroy: “Sister Mary used to raise herself to the top of the trees by the tips of the branches: she would take her scapular in one hand, and with the other the end of a small branch next to the leaves, and after a few moments she would glide along the outside edge of the tree to its top. Once up there, she would remain holding on to branches normally too weak to bear a person of her weight.”

The following are some depositions given by witnesses at process: “Sister E., now deceased, told me that one day when she happened to be in the garden with the servant of God, the latter said to her: “Turn around.” She had hardly turned her head when looking back again, she saw the little one already seated on the top of the lime tree, on a little branch, balancing herself like a bird and singing divine love. Another person declared: “Once I saw her in ecstasy at the top of the lime tree, seated at the tip of the highest branch, which, normally would never have been able to support her. Her face was resplendent! I saw her come down from the tree like a bird, from branch to branch, with great nimbleness and modesty.”

Saint Mariam died of an infection from a broken arm in Bethlehem at the age of 33 — the same age at which Catholics believe Jesus died.

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