On May 12 Saint Pancras (San Pancrazio) is celebrated. He is the protector of the Catholic Action Youth and the co-protector of the Teutonic Knights, an ancient monastic-military order and hospital founded in the Holy Land at the time of the third Crusade to assist pilgrims from Germany. Their full name is in fact the Order of the Brothers of the Hospital of Santa Maria of the Teutonics in Jerusalem.
In London St Pancras Station takes its name from the ancient Church of San Pancrazio, one of the first Christian places of worship on the island of Albione (Britain) founded by St. Augustine of Canterbury.
In Rome, on the site of his sepulcher, the Basilica of San Pancras was built by Pope Simmaco and he is the patron of 29 municipalities including Albano Laziale whose sanctuary is still the destination of many pilgrimages.
But what is the story of a Saint who has become so famous?
In reality, San Pancras died as an adolescent under the persecutions of Diocletian and did not have time to perform miraculous acts except for the heroic way in which he was sacrificed for the Christian faith.
Pancrazio was born in 289 in Asia Minor from wealthy parents who died early, the birth mother and father when he was still an 8-year-old boy. With one of his uncles he arrived in Rome where he came into contact with the Christian religion and both were baptized.
At that time the emperor Diocletian had begun to fear the followers of this religion who did not recognize the supremacy of the emperor. In fact, the Romans were known for having accepted many other religious cults to which they had placed only one condition: to recognize the divinity of the Emperor.
The Christians were different and considered the emperor a man like everyone else and since 303 Diocletian began a persecution in all the lands of the empire that led him to exterminate about 15,000 Christians.
There are many legends about Saint Pancras who is often depicted in military clothes, perhaps because it was supposed that all the boys of Rome embraced the military career or perhaps for its name, which in Greek means fighter. We do not know much more.
For sure they say that when he was brought before the Emperor Diocletian, he could not understand how such a beautiful teenager was so infatuated with the Christian God that he preferred death to a life at court.
So on May 12, 304, Pancrazio was taken to the second mile of the Via Aurelia where at sunset he was beheaded. He was only 14 years old. Immediately after his death, the Roman matron Ottavilla picked up the body and head and buried them in a catacomb writing “Hic decollatus fuit Sanctus Pancratius” (here was decapitated San Pancrazio).
For a few years the stories of the martyrs went into oblivion but strangely the chronicles tell us that already in the fifth century the tomb was the destination of many pilgrimages to the point that Pope Simmaco (498-524) decided to build a basilica in the place where San Pancrazio was buried and today the altar is located right above the tomb.
The cult was so strong in Rome that Porta Aurelia along the Aurelian walls changed its name to Porta San Pancrazio.
A curiosity: Saint Pancras is one of the ‘Saints of Ice’ or the saints of the last cold snap celebrated between 11 and 14 May. In these days of May, in fact, temperature drops often occur especially in central-northern Europe and there are many proverbs in this regard, while these climatic events were also studied by Galileo Galilei.
Meanwhile, in these days, English farmers do not shear their sheep and French peasants are waiting till after these days before sowing the crop.