Feast Day : May 12 (with Nereus, Achilleus and Domitilla)
Patronage: children; cramps; against false witness and perjury; headaches; oaths; treaties Also known as: Pancritas, Pancratius
Church historians know little about the 14-year-old orphan boy who was martyred with SS. Nereus, Achilleus and Domitilla. His uncle brought him to Rome, where he apparently joined the Praetorian Guard, the elite soldiers who guarded the emperor, or at least was connected to a guard member, perhaps Nereus or Achilleus. When Emperor Domitian discovered that his grandniece, Flavia Domitilla, was Christian, she, her family and any servants who were Christian were banished to the island of Ponza. Nereus, Achilleus and Pancras were part of that group. Under the reign of Emperor Trajan, Domitilla and her guards were taken to the island of Terracina. Nereus and Achilleus had been ordered to kill Domitilla, but moved by her faith they converted instead and refused to carry out the emperor’s orders. All four were beheaded and their bodies placed in the Domitilla family vault in Rome. Pope St. Siricius (r. 384–399) built a church over the cemetery vault in 390. Although Pancras was the least known of the four, Pope St. Vitalian (r. 657–672) sent the young martyr’s relics to England so that England would have holy relics for the establishment of churches and be better able to promote evangelization. The relics were presented to the king of Northumberland. Pope St. Gregory I (r. 590–604) honored Pancras along with the other three in a homily delivered at the church in St. Domitilla Cemetery when he claimed, “These saints despised the world and trampled it under their feet.” More important, St. Augustine of Canterbury— Pope Gregory’s emissary to England and founder of the see at Canterbury—dedicated the first church in England to Pancras. A district in London was later named after him as well. Pope Leo III (r. 795–816) built a new church to the four saints’ honor in 800, which was rebuilt by Cardinal Baronius in the 16th century. In 1874, the underground tomb at the location of Siricius’s original church was discovered. It was empty.