Saint Florian

Learn about the rich and inspiring biography of St. Florian, the patron saint of our Basilica.

Saint Florian was an imperial official in the Roman province of Noricum (today central Austria), who was martyred in 304, most likely on 4 May.

The description of his martyrdom dates back to the 8th century, which makes it difficult to vouch for its details. However, it is not purely a legend, as it reflects strong local traditions, some of which were written down in a 5th-century martyrology. The story provides the following details of his death: when Emperor Diocletian’s edicts on the persecution of Christians reached Noricum, Prefect Aquilinus began their meticulous implementation. Florian, who did not hide his faith, came to the threatened followers of Christ in Lorch to comfort them. Soon afterwards he was arrested by the prefect’s soldiers. The detainee declared that he was a Christian and, despite Aquilinus’s efforts, he refused to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods. Beating with sticks or other forms of torture did not help either. The battered follower was thrown off a bridge into the River Anisus (today the Enns). His body was buried near the place of death by the widow Valeria.

There is no exact information about what happened to the relics of the Holy Martyr. According to tradition, his body was buried on the site of today’s church, monastery and town of Sankt Florian, named after the saint. The next resting place of the holy relics was the city of Rome, where they found themselves among other famous martyrs: St. Stephen and St. Lawrence.

The story of bringing the relics of St. Florian to Poland is described by Jan Długosz in his chronicle under the year 1184: “Pope Lucius III, wishing to accede to the repeated pleas of the Polish monarch Casimir, resolves to give the said prince and the Kraków cathedral the body of the extraordinary martyr St. Florian.

For the greater honour of both the saint and the Poles, he sent the bones of the holy body to the Polish prince Casimir and the Kraków cathedral through the Bishop of Modena, Aegidius. He arrived with the holy remains in Kraków on the twenty-seventh of October and, amid signs of universal joy and gladness, he was received with great honours by Prince Casimir, the Bishop of Kraków Gedeon, and all the estates and monasteries without exception, which came out seven miles to meet him. Everyone was happy that the Poles, by God’s mercy, had a new intercessor and protector and that the Kraków cathedral gained new splendour by becoming the burial site of the body of the famous martyr. The said body was brought in a crowded procession, and through this honourable deposit its glory spread far and wide. In honour of the Holy Martyr, Bishop Gedeon built, at great expense, a church of exquisite workmanship outside the walls of Kraków, which, thanks to God’s grace, has survived to this day. The Bishop of Modena, Aegidius, who was generously gifted by Prince Casimir and the Bishop of Kraków Gedeon, was sent back to Rome. From that time on, Poles, both knights, and townspeople and peasants, began to honour and commemorate St. Florian by giving his name at baptism.”

After the relics of St. Florian arrived in Kraków, his cult spread very quickly. The cult focuses mainly on his burial site – the previously mentioned hill on the Enns River, not far from Lorch in Austria, where the Baroque Sankt Florian Abbey stands to this day.

In Kraków, the main place of worship of St. Florian was first Wawel Cathedral, where the body of the Holy Martyr was placed in the middle of the altar. After the native saint, i.e., St. Stanislaus, was canonized in 1253, Florian was remembered most in Kleparz. After all, the local collegiate church dedicated to him was where the cult of the famous Martyr and Patron flourished continuously for eight centuries. The collegiate church is a proud keeper of the relics of St. Florian.

In 1436, Saint Florian was declared one of the main patron saints of Poland, along with the saints Adalbert, Stanislaus, and Wenceslaus. He also received an honorary mention in the song that serves as the national anthem.

Saint Florian,
Our dear patron,
Pray for us to the Son
Of the Holy Virgin Mary.

The increased popularity of the patron saint in the 15th century was spurred by numerous sermons, songs, verse adaptations of the legend, and the impressive annual procession on 4 May which, until the 20th century, would go from Wawel to the collegiate church in Kleparz. In his apostolic letter sent in 1984, on the 800th anniversary of St. Florian’s Parish in Kleparz, Holy Father John Paul II, as a former vicar of Saint Florian, wrote the following about the cult of St. Martyr:

Before the Church in Poland produced its own Saint and Martyr, Bishop Stanislaus of Kraków, and gained a Patron in him, it was based, as it were, and grew on the ripe fruits of the holiness of the Universal Church, on saints originating from other nations. At that time, they were signposts and guides for our Church on the path to holiness, which soon began to bear fruit in our homeland.

Saint Florian became for us a distinct sign of this universality, of the special bond of the Church and the Polish Nation with the Vicar of Christ and with the See of Christianity… The Saint, called the protector of the Kingdom of Poland, became the Patron Saint of the City and the Homeland. He who suffered martyrdom while rushing to bear witness of his faith, to help and comfort the persecuted Christians in Lauriacum, became the victor and defender in the many dangers that threaten the material and spiritual well-being of man.

It should also be emphasized that Saint Florian has been revered for centuries in Poland and abroad as the Patron Saint of firefighters, i.e., those who, faithful to the commandment of love and Christian tradition, help others in the face of threat of natural disasters.

The Holy Martyr was especially venerated by people of demanding and dangerous professions, such as firefighters, chimney sweeps, and steel workers. People at risk of war, fire, flood, and today also people at risk of environmental pollution ask for his powerful intercession.

He probably died in 304. An officer of the Roman Army in today’s Austria. During Diocletian’s persecution, he confessed to being a Christian and was cruelly martyred. His relics were brought from Italy to Poland, where he has been venerated since the 12th century.

Patron saint of firefighters, cloth merchants, brewers, and chimney sweeps, he protects against disasters, such as fire, war, flood, crop failure, and storms.