Honoured in Lewes for centuries, St Pancras has been one of Rome’s own favourite saints ever since he was martyred there in 304 during the Diocletian persecution. Christian Roman soldiers adopted the youthful saint as a patron. Little else is known about him. He may have been the patron of Pope St Gregory the Great’s English mission, led by St Augustine. He dedicated his first English Church to St Pancras in Canterbury in 597.
Lewes quickly became the third most significant Pancras site in England, after Canterbury and London. In the 1070s, a Saxon Church, St Pancras, became the nucleus of the important Cluniac Priory of St Pancras, which was dissolved in 1573.
When the 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act allowed Catholics to worship openly, Mass was said at 10 Priory Crescent, overlooking the priory ruins. When a church was built in 1870, St Pancras was the obvious choice for patron.
The Priest’s house was built at the same time as the church of 1870. Two cottages on the corner of Irelands Lane, on the site of the present forecourt, were used as a parish school.
These buildings and their furnishings were all paid for by the parents of the first parish priest Fr Hubert Wood. Mrs Wood also made several fine vestments, some of which are still in use today.
In 1930 St Pancras Catholic Primary School was built in De Montfort Road, allowing redevelopment in Irelands Lane. At that time the first church was in a poor state of repair and had to be pulled down. The present church, built in1939, was designed by Edward Walters and cost £7500. The stained Glass windows in the nave and chancel are from the first church and there is also a commemorative tablet to be found in the Lady Chapel. Other stained glass windows have been added more recently, with St Philip Howard commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the church in 1989, and a modern design marking the new millennium.
A number of re-arrangements to the interior of the church have occurred over the years, with the most recent development being the addition of the Cluny Annexe consisting of the Wood Room and Challoner Hall. This build replaces the previous Canon O Donnell Hall sited a few hundred yards up the road on the island formed by Spital Road and Western Road.