Part of my PhD thesis involved conceptualising the various forms of defence against aerial bombardment put forward during the thirty-odd years before the Second World War: things like anti-aircraft guns, air-raid shelters, an international air force, and so on. Something I didn't include was what we might call spiritual air defence. Partly because I didn't come across much like that in my sources, and probably partly because of my own rationalistic bent. This may have been unfortunate.
What do I mean by spiritual air defence? Here's what got me thinking about it: Padre Pio, Italy's flying monk. (Technically, bilocating, but that doesn't scan as well.) Here's a sober, historical account by Claudia Baldoli:
With the intensification of bombing after the armistice in September 1943, a rumour spread across Italy that God had granted Padre Pio could fly and intercept the enemy's bombs [...] it seemed plausible that Padre Pio could fly and intercept the enemy's bombs. With the exception of Foggia, which was repeatedly bombed between May and September 1943, the area of Apulia where he lived in Gargano received no raids, and this convinced many that the rumour must be true. For decades after 1944, the supporters of his case for beatification were even able to find RAF pilots who were willing to confirm that it was indeed an apparition of a flying apparition of a flying Padre Pio which had stared at them so directly that they abandoned the mission and returned to their bases without dropping bombs.1
As might be expected, there are a number of accounts on the web which add more details but somehow don't add plausibility. One of the better ones is an article by Malcolm Day from the September 2002 Fortean Times. This doesn't mention the rumours circulating among the Italian population, only to the claims (or claims of claims) made by Allied pilots:
In their approach to the town [San Giovanni], several pilots reported seeing an apparition in the sky in the form of a monk with upheld hands. They also described some sort of 'force-field' that prevented them flying over the target rendering them unable to drop their bombs.
Supposedly this happened repeatedly, and was verified by 'Bernardo Rosini, general of the Aeronautica Italiana, and part of the United Air Command at the time' (presumably this means the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force, which flew on the Allied side, though not over Italian soil) and an unnamed 'US Commanding General'. Some posts on the ArmyAirForces forum provide some further (albeit conflicting) details, suggesting that the first raid took place on 16 July 1943, carried out by 5th Bombardment Wing, XII Bomber Command. An example of an eye-witness account (though written more than half a century after the event) can also be found there:
I almost killed Padre Pio.....the enclosed flight record of bombing raids, shows that Villa San Giovanni was scheduled to be wiped out with 150,000 pounds of bombs. Allied Intelligence had information (erroneous) that German troops had occupied the hospital, friary and town of San Giovanni. Two minutes from dropping the bombs, the Colonel in the lead aircraft saw an apparition of a Monk, 30,000 feet tall, and broke off the bomb-run and proceeded to the secondary target. The Colonel was a Protestant, and when he was later shown a photo of Padre Pio said that was the apparition.
A 30,000-foot tall monk would certainly seem enough to scare off anyone, but I am worried that more reliable accounts are not available. In any case, I'm more interested in the wartime rumours than the postwar stories which, as Baldoli notes, were used to argue for Pio's beatification. (I guess it helped: he was beatified in 1999 and canonised in 2002.)