Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Feast of St Pancratius

May 12th is the feast of the Roman martyr St Pancratius (also known as Pancras in English), a martyr of the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian. Born in Phrygia to Roman parents, his mother died in childbirth, and his father when he was eight, leaving him to the care of his uncle Dionysius, who brought him to Rome. When all Christians were called upon to sacrifice to the idols, they both refused, and thus received the crown of martyrdom; Pancratius was 14 years old at the time of his death. In the Roman world, this was roughly the earliest age at which a young man could receive the toga virilis, which signified that he was now entering adulthood. The Roman station church of Low Sunday is the basilica dedicated to him on the Janiculum hill, so that the newly baptized would lay aside the white garments of spiritual infancy at the tomb of one who gave his life for Christ when he had only just become an adult, and legally capable of being killed for his faith. Over the course of Lent, the catechumens had visited the churches of many different martyrs; on the day they become adults within the Church, they are reminded that although they are just at the very beginning of their spiritual adulthood, they must give their whole lives to Christ, who gave His own for the salvation of the world.
The skull of St Pancras, encased in a silver and bronze reliquary, and displayed for his feast day in his church in Rome. (Also perfectly positioned so that from no angle could lens-flare be avoided.)
Devotion to St Pancras was formerly very great, and starting in the Carolingian era, parts of his relics were brought to churches throughout Europe. His skull was for many centuries kept at the Pope’s cathedral of St John in the Lateran, and an old tradition states that tears flowed from it when the building was razed to the ground by a massive fire in 1360. In 1965, this relic was returned to the basilica on the Janiculum, which, however, was itself very badly damaged during the shameful episode now known to history as the Roman Republic of 1849. A church in Pancras’ honor was founded in London by St Augustine of Canterbury, which would eventually give its name to the area around it, and hence to one of the city’s major train stations.
The pulpit is decorated with a statue of the Saint holding a reliquary of himself in one hand, and the palm branch which symbolizes the victory of his martyrdom in the other.

This pulpit is very new, but has some nice work on it in the Romanesque style.
The silver bust reliquary shown above is normally kept in this compartment on the wall of the church’s right nave; when it is moved into the sanctuary for the feast, it is replaced with another relic of St Pancras. This part of the church is said to be the very place where he and his uncle were beheaded.
The church’s very large organ was installed right in the sanctuary in the reign of St Pius X. One can only assume that the organist is under orders from the celebrant NOT to pull out all the stops during Mass...
Each year for the feast of their patron Saint, the Discalced Carmelite friars who now run the basilica of St Pancras invite a different Roman college of an Eastern rite to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. This photos was taken in 2016, when it was the turn of the Ukrainian College of St Josaphat, their neighbors on the Janiculum.

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