TWO BY THE SAME NAME

A reader in Romania asked about icons of this fellow:

There are several things we can learn from him. First, his image is imaginary, like a great many other icon images of saints before the age of accurate portraiture and photography. Second, and equally significant, his biography is completely fictional.

Nonetheless, he is a saint associated with Taormina in Sicily. His Greek name is Ἁγιος Παγκρατιος / Hagios Pangkratios, and his Slavic name is Pankratiy Tavromenskiy / Панкратий Тавроменийский — Pancratius of Taormina. It is said that there is a St. Pangkratios mentioned in early martyrologies, but the story of his life was written in the early 8th century. So though there may have been a martyr named Pangkratios, virtually nothing is known about him.

The made-up life of Pangkratios of Taormina tells us that as a first-century boy, he lived in Antioch. When his parents heard of a teacher named Jesus, they took the boy to Jerusalem to see him and the miracles he was said to perform. So Pangkratios saw Jesus and became acquainted with his disciples, particularly with Peter. The tale goes on to say that after Jesus ascended to Heaven, an apostle came to Antioch and baptized the family.

When his parents died, Pangkratios went to live in a cave in the Pontic Mountains, in what now would be Northern Anatolia, Turkey. There he practiced prayer and religious meditation. St Peter supposedly met Pankratios in Pontus and took him to Cilicia, where he was ordained by both Peter and Paul as bishop of Taormina in Sicily. Supposedly after his arrival to take up the bishopric in Taormina, he was so successful at converting the populace that he was martyred by jealous pagans. But again, it is all a pious fiction.

It happens that in the West, Pangkratios / Pancratius is also known as Pancras. Those who have been to or have read much about London will recall the name St. Pancras Station, a railway terminus in central London. It is now called St. Pancras International. One might suppose then, that it is named for St. Pancras / Pankratios of Taormina, but that too would be wrong. It is named for a second Pancras more famous in the West than Pangkratios of Taormina — and that would be the boy St. Pancras of Rome.

(Bodemuseum, Berlin)

There again we have no reliable historical information.  His traditional hagiography says he was born around the end of the 200s, and was then raised by an uncle in Rome.  Both became Christians, and the boy Pancras is said to have been beheaded for his belief at the age of 14 during the persecution of Christians by Diocletian.   The tale of St. Pancras is found in the 13th century Golden Legend of Jacobus Voragine.

In 597 St. Augustine (of Canterbury) was sent by Pope Gregory I from Rome to England to convert the Anglo-Saxons.  Augustine was a devotee of the boy St. Pancras, and is said to have named the first church he founded in England after him.  That is how veneration of the boy saint began to spread in England.  Now oddly enough, tradition says that to have your prayers answered successfully by St. Pancras, one needed to have been either voluntarily given an image of him or to have stolen his image.  If one wanted money and prosperity in business, his image was to be placed in an obvious place, along with an offering of parsley.

Inevitably, St. Pangkratios/Pancras of Taormina and St. Pancras of Rome are often confused.