It is popularly believed that Florian was a high-ranking Roman army officer in the Celtic kingdom of Noricum (stretching over the area of today's Austria and Slovenia). His martyrdom, in about 303, was during the persecution of Galerius and shows that as early as the 3rd century Christianity had reached that part of Europe.
There are several versions of the story and most centre on Florian's refusal to renounce his faith, which resulted in his execution. His job in the army was fighting fires and he is said to have prevented a town from burning by praying and throwing a single bucket of water into the flames. It is ironic that he was killed by being burnt on a stake.
His followers were confident the smoke from his body would raise his soul up to heaven, and to counter this possibility, the executioners tied a stone to Florian's neck and tossed his body into the river Enns1. Since then, several miracles have been witnessed in the vicinity and Florian is recognised as a saint.
Because of his role as a firefighter and his steadfast faith which resulted in his martyrdom, St. Florian has become patron saint of firefighters2.
St. Florian's Cross
Little wonder, then, that the cross associated with St. Florian is used as a badge for firefighters today in many countries, especially the US and Canada3.
The St. Florian's Cross is based on the St. John's Cross.
The main difference being the ends of the St. Florian Cross are convex, in contrast the St. John's Cross, where the ends are either flat or concave. (This 'bulging' of the cross ends may have been influenced by the French Occitan Cross.)
The main similarity is that there are eight corner points on both cross styles. As with the St. John's Cross, these eight points are often associated with the eight beatitudes4.
For the fire service, the eight points on St. Florian's Cross represent the eight different virtues of Knighthood:
- Tact and discretion
- Loyalty and commitment
- Dexterity and mental adroitness
- Observation, attentiveness and perceptiveness
- Sympathy, compassion and sharing
- Explicitness and thoroughness
- Gallantry, and
For fire and police badges of Britain, Commonwealth and other countries, see Brunswick Cross