The place of worship on this site, named after our patron St Pancras, has become synonymous with this area of London.
Historical records indicate that the name of St Pancras has been associated with this site since 600 AD, and possibly even earlier.
The Saint who has given his name to a score of churches throughout the Christian world, as well as to a borough, a hospital and a main line railway station, was beheaded by order of the Emperor Diocletian in the year 304, at about the age of fourteen. He is said to have been the son of Cleonius and Cyriada, of Synnada in Phrygia. His parents died before he was twelve years old. He was then cared for by his uncle Dionysus, who had a house on the Coelian Hill in Rome and with whom he was converted to Christianity by the Bishop Marcellinus.
Soon afterwards the persecutions began and many Christians were put terribly to death. The emperor is said to have wished to spare Pancras on account of his youth but such was the strength of the boy’s faith that he refused clemency, saying: “I dare not worship idols. God will give me strength to die for him as others have done.”
The birth of a legend
The site of his martyrdom is preserved under the Basilica of St Pancrazio in Rome, near to which lived the Apostle of England, St Augustine. Hence his devotion to the boy-saint and desire to spread his cult. Donald Attwater, in his Penguin Dictionary of Saints, states that there are the bones of a martyr named Pancras beneath the basilica but that all else is legend. However, it is a legend we treasure: the lone figure, valiant for truth, holding the palm of martyrdom and trampling on the devil, as depicted on a famous brass at Cowfold in Sussex, and in the seal of the old borough of St Pancras copied from it. The same figure can still be seen on some of the old street lamps. It was also as the patron of truth and avenger of false oaths that the Saint was invoked by Tennyson when he made Duke William of Normandy say to King Harold:
“Lay thou thy hand
upon this golden pall;
Behold the jewel
of Saint Pancratius
Woven into the gold.
Swear thou on this.”
The company of Saints
It is recorded that in 665, the Pope Vitalian sent King Oswy of Northumbria a present of holy relics of early Christian saints and martyrs, including the Apostles Peter and Paul, and Ss Lawrence, John, Paul and Gregory. Our patron also appears in the list, and it is a measure of the esteem in which he was held that his name was judged fit to appear in such sacred company.
The Shrine of our Patron
In 1978 a picture of St Pancras was painted on wood by a member of the Benedictine Community at Cockfosters, and was installed as the Shrine of our Patron on his feast day, May 12, in that year. It depicts him as a sturdy Roman youth standing firm in the Faith before his basilica in Rome. He holds a model of the church as it was in the fourteenth century in his right hand, and in his left the palm of martyrdom