Saints Nereus, Achilleus, and Pancras, Martyrs
May 12 marks the feast of Saints Nereus, Achilleus, and Pancras, martyrs. Each was martyred for his faith in Christ, in the same year during the persecution of Christians under the order of Emperor Diocletian.
Nereus and Achilleus were soldiers in the Praetorian Guard, who became Christians–baptized by Saint Peter, it is said–and decided that they must give up fighting. They escaped from the guard, but were discovered and sent into exile first to the island of Pontia with Saint Flavia Domitilla and then to Terracina. There during the reign of Emperor Trajan in 100 A.D. both saints were beheaded. Their sepulcher is preserved in the cemetery on the Ardeatine Way, where a basilica has been built in their honor.
Toward the end of the 4th century, Pope Saint Damasus inscribed a tombstone in honor of the saints. It read:”Nereus and Achilleus the martyrs joined the army and carried out the cruel orders of the tyrant, obeying his will continually out of fear. Then came a miracle of faith. They suddenly gave up their savagery, they were converted, and they fled the camp of their evil leader, throwing away their shields, armor, and bloody spears. Professing the faith of Christ, they are happy to witness to its triumph. From these words of Damasus understand what great deeds can be brought about by Christ’s glory.”
Saint Pancras (also known as Pancratius; San Pancrazio) was born in Syria or Phrygia and died in Rome, Italy, c. 304. All that is known of Saint Pancras is that he was buried in the cemetery of Calepodius on the Aurelian Way, which was later named after him. According to tradition, Pancras was orphaned and brought to Rome by an uncle, where both were converted to Christianity. His name is Greek and literally means “the one that holds everything”. As a boy of fourteen, he was beheaded in Rome for his faith. Pope Saint Symmachus, c. 500, built a church to mark his grave.
Saint Pancras is the patron saint of fidelity to oaths, particularly the oaths of faith taken during baptism and confirmation. Oaths taken in Saint Pancras’s church at Rome were esteemed to have a special sacredness.