St Pancras

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There are two saints called Pancras. Both are early in the history of the church, and little is known of them as a result. The name is Greek in origin, meaning 'all-powerful': as well as being an epithet applied to Jesus, it was used as a forename among early Christians.

  • St Pancras of Taormina is the earlier of the two. One legend claims that he and his family travelled from Antioch (in Asia Minor) to Jerusalem, and met Jesus and St Peter. Another says that St Peter sent him on a mission to bring Christianity to the Island of Sicily, making him Bishop of Tauromenium (the modern Taormina). In Sicily, he saved the town of Taormina from destruction by the pagan lord Aquilinus through a miracle. But he was later (in 40 CE) stoned to death by other local pagans. A church in Taormina is dedicated to him (as San Pancrazio), as are others in Sicily and elsewhere.
  • A later martyr, St Pancras of Rome, was beheaded in 304 under the persecutions of Diocletian. He was only 14 years old: he had been brought to Rome by an uncle, after his parents had died around Synnada, also in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Over his tomb, Pope Symmachus (Pope 498-514) built the Basilica of San Pancrazio, which houses the martyr's head: his other remains are in the Catacombs of St Pancras (also called 'of Ottavilla' the Christian matron who first buried him). This is the saint whose name is given to the London district (and railway station, etc) of St Pancras. There are at least ten other churches dedicated to him in England, relics of him having been sent to England with Saint Augustine of Canterbury by Pope Gregory I (Gregory the Great) (?540-604 CE; Pope 590-604).