Faith and Fire: The Story of Saint Florian
The mighty Roman Emperor Diocletian was not pleased. From Noricum, a Roman province that encompasses what we know today as Austria, came word that a Roman army officer named Florian was not enforcing the Emperor’s edicts to purge the realm of Christianity. Diocletian had previously made himself clear. Christianity was a threat to the Empire. To deal with this threat, he had issued a series of laws calling for Christians to be purged from public offices, for Christian churches and literature to be destroyed, and punishment for those who refused to offer sacrifice to the traditional Roman deities. If Florian was not working for the betterment of the Empire, it needed to be known. Accordingly, an investigator was sent from Rome to get to the bottom of the situation. When this investigator reached Florian, he found more than a mere Roman officer. He found a saint in the making.
Florian was born around the year 250 in a part of the Roman Empire that also included part of modern-day Austria. He entered the Roman army as a young man. In addition to his military duties, Florian also organized firefighting brigades. He rose high in the ranks, becoming a commander at Noricum. It was here that Emperor Diocletian’s investigator came to put Florian to the ultimate test.
As a Roman administrator and soldier, Florian was expected to carry out his orders. That included following the Emperor's directives targeting Christians. Why wasn’t Florian doing this? As the defiant commander revealed, he was a Christian himself and he would not harm his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. With this information, and after refusing to offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods, Florian’s fate was sealed. As he reportedly said to the investigator, “Tell the Emperor that I am Christian and will suffer the same fate as the Christians.”
For a Christian during these times, the price of following Jesus Christ often came at the price of one’s life. This is the price that Florian paid. He was initially sentenced to be burned at the stake, the common method of lethal punishment for Christians. Confronted with the funeral pyre that was being built for him, Florian told his executioners, “Be as angry and do as much harm as you can, since you possess power over my body which has been given to you for now. If you want to know why I do no fear your tortures, light a fire, and I will climb upon it.” The executioners decided to dispense with the fire. Instead, they flogged, flayed, and then tied a large stone around Florian’s neck. He was then thrown into the Ennis River and drowned.
Florian’s story did not end at the bottom of the Ennis River. A faithful lady recovered his body and gave him a proper burial. Venerated as a saint, from his own time to the current day, his name continues to echo through the ages. For good reason, he is the patron saint of firefighters. During his time on earth, Florian reportedly used a single bucket of water to put out a fire that threatened to destroy a village. Years after his death, a man seemed to be at death’s door when faced with a deadly fire. He called upon Saint Florian, begging for his intercession, and was saved. In another remarkable testament to his power, a statue of Florian in front of the main firehouse in Vienna, Austria continued to stand tall after a bombing in World War II. To coincide with International Firefighter’s Day, Saint Florian’s feast day is celebrated on May 4. He is also the patron saint of chimney sweeps, soap boilers, and an intercessor for those seeking protection from risks relating to drowning and flooding.
Catholic News World: St. Florian - Patron Saint of Firefighters.
Daily Bread: Saint Florian - How He Became Patron Saint of Firefighters.
Intellectual Takout: Diocletian's Great Persecution of Christians - How it Began.
Reliquarian.com: Saint Florian - Saint of Fire and Flood.
The Story of Saint Florian by David Allen White.