When we hear about Saint Pancras, most of us immediately think railway station in London. Today we celebrate the feast of St Pancras who was martyred and buried on the Aurelian Way outside Rome. There is a strong connection between this martyr and Canterbury. If you walk in the grounds of St Augustine Abbey which are just across the road from our church you will find the remains of the first church founded by Augustine in England which was dedicated to St Pancras.
Pope Gregory, when he sent St Augustine on his mission, he gave him relics of St Pancras to bring with him. The remains of this church in Canterbury are amongst the most striking of the ruins within the grounds of St Augustine’s Abbey. One of its surviving columns, made of limestone quarried from the Paris basin, is still in place.
It is suggested that this church was built on the site of a pagan temple, or rather the temple was transformed into a church. Pope Gregory was clear about how to deal with pagan shrines.
“I have decided after long deliberation about the English people, namely that the idol temples of that race should by no means be destroyed, but only the idols in them. For if the shrines are well built, it is essential that they should be changed from the worship of devils to the service of the true God. When the people see that the shrines are not destroyed they will be able to banish error from their hearts and be more ready to come to the places they are familiar with, but now recognising that and worshipping the true God.”
We can link this with the first reading today where Paul preaches to the Greeks in Athens before the whole council of the Areopagus.
“Men of Athens, I have seen for myself how extremely scrupulous you are in all religious matters, because I noticed, as I strolled round admiring your sacred monuments, that you had an altar inscribed: To An Unknown God. Well, the God whom I proclaim is in fact the one whom you already worship without knowing it.”
This echos the verse from the prophet Micah:
“For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.”
In our sharing of the Gospel we build on the experience and movement of the spirit in man to help all to discover healing and life comes only through Christ.