On 12 May, around the year 304, soldiers led a 14-year-old boy to a spot on the Via Aurelia, 20 km northwest of Rome’s centre where he was executed.
The boy was St Pancras, a young Roman citizen who converted to Christianity. When he was beheaded for his faith, he was 14 years old.
Almost no reliable information survives about him, aside from what was written long after his death. What we do know is that he was faith-filled and courageous and gave his life for Christ.
Born around 289, Pancras came from a wealthy family in modern-day Turkey. His parents died when we was young and he moved to Rome to live with his uncle during the reign of Emperor Diocletian (284-305). This emperor ushered in the final years of intense Christian persecution across the Roman empire.
Pancras and his uncle gave shelter to many persecuted Christians. The emperor discovered their efforts, and, finding that Pancras was only 14, ordered that the boy be brought before him.
Legend attests that the emperor asked Pancras to perform a sacrifice to the Roman gods, promising him wealth and power should he renounce Christianity.
Despite the most powerful person in the world offering a lifetime of wealth to perform this simple task, under pain of death, the boy refused.
Pancras’ idealism and determination to resist struck the emperor as impressive. This stubborn refusal to disavow Christ provoked his accusers and finally the emperor ordered him to be beheaded on the Via Aurelia.
The boy was decapitated along with three other men for publicly sharing their faith and was buried near Via Aurelia in Rome in the Roman catacombs.
Laws against Christianity in the Roman empire were lifted within the year. A basilica was constructed over Pancras’ tomb, which soon became a popular pilgrimage destination.
In the following years, devotion to the boy martyr only grew.
In the late 500s, Pope St Gregory the Great appointed monks to staff this small Basilica in Rome, which was at that point almost three hundred years old. The same Pope Gregory sent St Augustine of Canterbury on a missionary journey to England. where he established a church in honour of Saint Pancras.
One hundred years later, in the late 600s, Pope Vitalian wrote a letter to King Oswy of Northumbria in the 660s saying he sent relics of St Pancras and other Roman saints as a gift.
This spread devotion to St Pancras, until six ancient churches were dedicated to St Pancras in England alone.
Patron saint of children, jobs, and health, and is always shown as youth who holds an inverted sword in one hand and a palm branch in the other.
Like young people today, this courageous youth was a standard-bearer for a new future, fighting for a time when followers of Christ would not suffer for their beliefs. Seventeen hundred years later, St Pancras is still an inspiring reminder that young people with conviction have the power to change the world.St Pancras, you gave up your life rather than worship false gods. May your example inspire all young people to put the love of God above all else.
St Pancras, pray for all young people that their faith may be as steadfast as yours, that their faith may stand firm in against every adversity, guiding them through every trial.