St Pancras Gardens, N1C

Place Name

The area is named after the local church which is dedicated to St Pancras. Pancras himself was a Roman citizen who converted to Christianity, and was beheaded for his faith when he was 14 years old, in Rome. An orphan from the age of eight, he had been taken into care by an uncle who converted him to the new religion. His zeal for his new found faith proved his undoing however. During the Christian persecutions under the Emperor Diocletian he was arrested and brought before the authorities where he was asked to perform a sacrifice to the Roman gods. Diocletian was impressed with the boy’s refusal, and is said to have promised him wealth and power if he abandoned his convictions. Pancras refused and so the emperor ordered him to be beheaded on the Via Aurelia, on May 12, AD303. A Roman matron named Ottavilla recovered his body, covered it with balsam, wrapped it in linens, and buried it in a newly built sepulchre dug in the Catacombs of Rome. The boy’s head was placed in the reliquary that still exists today in the Basilica of Saint Pancras. Within 200 years a cult around the boy-saint had developed and when Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine to England on his mission to convert the heathen state, it was St Pancras’s story and relics that he used to convince them. For this reason, many English churches are dedicated to Pancras; St Pancras Old Church in London is one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in England. Although the connection with the saint is only recorded in Norman times, featuring in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Sanctum Pancratïü, there is evidence of a Saxon church on the site. The name was later written as Parochia Sancti Pancrassi in 1353 and later still in 1575 as Pancrich and Pankeridge al. Although a few years earlier it had been written as St Pancras in the Fields. Of these later variations, John Field in Place-Names of Greater London writes: “Some early spellings indicate a development towards Pancridge, paralleled by Mrs Gamp’s pronunciation of Jonas as Jonadge, but the name was doubtless brought back to its original form by awareness of its origin in the dedication – unlike Dilewise, which became (and remains) Dulwich.”

 

 

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