Saint of the Day – 12 May – St Pancras (c290-304) Martyr – Patron against cramps, against false witness or perjury, against headaches, of children, oaths, treaties, diocese of Albano, Italy, 27 cities in Germany and Italy. Attributes – Roman legion armor, martyr’s palm branch, book, quill, sword.
St Pancras was a Roman citizen who converted to Christianity and was beheaded for his faith at the age of fourteen, around the year 304. His name is Greek and literally means “the one that holds everything”.
From an early stage, Saint Pancras was venerated together with Saints Nereus and Achilleus in a shared feast day and Mass formula on 12 May. Since 1969, Saint Pancras has been venerated separately, still on 12 May. He is, traditionally, the second of the Ice Saints. (The Ice Saints is a name given to St. Mamertus (or, in some countries, St. Boniface of Tarsus St. Pancras, and St. Servatius in Austrian, Belgian, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, North-Italian, Polish, Slovene and Swiss folklore. They are so named because their feast days fall on the days of May 11, May 12, and May 13 respectively, known as “the black-thorn winter”)
Because he was said to have been martyred at the age of fourteen during the persecution under Diocletian, Pancras would have been born around 290, at a place designated as near Synnada, a city of Phrygia Salutaris, to parents of Roman citizenship. His mother Cyriada died during childbirth, while his father Cleonius died when Pancras was eight years old. Pancras was entrusted to his uncle Dionysius’ care. They both moved to Rome to live in a villa on the Caelian Hill. They converted to Christianity and Pancras became a zealous adherent of the religion.
During the persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian, around 303 AD, he was brought before the authorities and asked to perform a sacrifice to the Roman gods. Diocletian, impressed with the boy’s determination to resist, promised him wealth and power but Pancras refused and finally the emperor ordered him to be beheaded on the Via Aurelia, on 12 May 303 AD.
A Roman matron named Ottavilla recovered Pancras’ body, covered it with balsam, wrapped it in precious linens and buried it in a newly built sepulchre dug in the Catacombs of Rome. Pancras’ head was placed in the reliquary that still exists today in the Basilica of Saint Pancras.
Devotion to Pancras definitely existed from the fifth century onwards, for the basilica of Saint Pancras was built by Pope Symmachus (498-514), on the place where the body of the young martyr had been buried; his earliest passio seems to have been written during this time.
Pope Gregory the Great gave impetus to the cult of Pancras, sending Augustine of Canterbury to England carrying relics of that saint and including his legend in Liber in gloria martyrum (for this reason, many English churches are dedicated to Pancras; St Pancras Old Church in London is one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in England). In medieval iconography, Pancras was depicted as a young soldier, due to his association with the paired soldier saints Nereus and Achilleus. By the mid-nineteenth century, pious embroidery set Pancras’s martyrdom in the arena among wild beasts, where the panther refrains from attacking and killing him until the martyr gives the beast permission.
His image in statue form can be found in many bars, restaurants and other businesses and of course, St. Pancras Railway Station in London is named after him.