St. Flora was raised in Spain by a Christian mother in a Muslim household. After her father died, her mother formed her in the faith. But her older brother, a totally committed follower of Mohammed, forced her to go through the motions of practicing Islam.
One day, Flora slipped away from home and sought to live as a Christian. Her influential brother had her priest friends arrested and punished. Because she saw that her flight had caused suffering in the church, she came out of hiding and boldly confronted her brother. She said: “I know how eagerly you seek me and how keen you are about it. Well, now you have me! I come, like a good Christian, armed with the sign of the cross. Now, tear this faith from me, separate me from Christ if you can. I think it will be very difficult, for I am ready to suffer every torture for him. I speak strongly—do I not? Well, during martyrdom, I shall speak more strongly.”
Hoping to compel her to change her mind, her brother accused her before the cadi. He said: “Judge, this is my youngest sister who always practiced our holy religion with me. But the Christians have perverted her, making her hate our prophet and believe that Christ is God.”
The judge turned to Flora and asked: “Does your brother tell the truth?” And she replied, “Everything he said was a lie. I have never been a Muslim. From my infancy I have known none but Christ. He is my God and I have consecrated myself to him as his bride.”
The judge decided that severe punishment would correct such an intelligent young woman. So he had her scourged until she fainted under the blows. Then he turned her over to her brother, charging him to make her into a good Muslim. However, soon Flora escaped again and withdrew to a town in the mountains. There one day in church she met a woman named Mary, whose younger brother had recently been martyred in Cordoba. Together they decided to give themselves up as martyrs and presented themselves to the cadi. Flora said:
“I was ill-treated some time ago in the most cruel manner by the Muslims because I refused to renounce Christ. Since then I have been weak enough to hide myself. But today, full of confidence in my God, I am not afraid to come forward to declare, as resolutely as before, that Christ is God. . . .”
When the judge threatened to sell both Flora and Mary as prostitutes, they considered backing down. St. Eulogius, himself in prison, heard of their temptation and wrote Flora an encouraging letter. Even if their bodies were violated, he said, their souls would remain pure. So the two women gathered their strength and endured shameful suffering in a brothel until their captors finally beheaded them. They promised that in heaven they would pray for the release of all the other prisoners. And a week after Flora and Mary died, those prisoners were freed.
Eulogius wrote a celebratory piece about the martyrdom of Flora, his spiritual daughter. He frankly described her weakness and fears that almost caused her to compromise her faith in order to avoid shame and death. I appreciate his report because it showed that Flora was cut from the same human cloth of which I am made. Her superior faith did not eradicate her natural fear. She wavered and trembled on her way to glory.
from Voices of the Saints, by Bert Ghezzi
Image credit: Saint Flora by Katherine Sanders, 2012. Public Domain via Wikimedia..