Austria: Patron Saints – St. Florian

Saint Florian is the only martyr to have died in Austria who is known by name. Tradition has it that as a boy Florian once miraculously extinguished a house fire with only one small bucketful of water. The story quickly spread among the people and as early as the late Middle Ages his name would be invoked to intercede wherever a fire had broken out. Pictures which began to appear around the same time depict the saint with his attributes of fire, house, and water pail or jug. Saint Florian is the most revered saint in Upper Austria and is the patron saint of firemen, stove fitters, blacksmiths, chimney sweeps, soap-boilers and brewers. On the 1,700th anniversary of his death Upper Austria's unofficial provincial patron was named officially as patron saint of the Province at a ceremony in the St. Florian Basilica.

In the days of the Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian extensive persecutions of Christians were carried out including some in areas which lie within the borders of present day Austria. Saint Florian, born around 250 AD, was a high-ranking Roman official who had converted to the Christian faith. One day the Roman governor Aquilinus of Lauriacum began the persecution of 40 Christians in the Province of Ufernoricum (Lorch, Upper Austria). Florian immediately set off from Aelium Cetium, present day St. Polten, to help, but was himself arrested for being a Christian. In spite of all manner of torture he resolutely refused to renounce his faith and to make sacrifice to the Roman gods. He was condemned to death and the sentence was carried out on 4 May 304. First, his shoulder blades were smashed using sharp iron poles, then he was thrown into the River Enns from a bridge with a millstone tied around his neck.

According to legend, the soldier who pushed him into the river was blinded for the rest of his life and Florian's body was borne up by the waves on the river and laid to rest on a rock that jutted out above the water. Thereupon an eagle is said to have swooped down and stood guard over the saint's body. Florian appeared to a pious widow and instructed her to find his corpse and to bury it in a specific place. The woman immediately set off to recover the body and buried it in the place she had been instructed. Many miracles, such as healing, occurred at this spot and the grave became a place of pilgrimage. The St. Florian Basilica was later erected on the site.

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