A brief history of St. Andrew

  • The Midgie
  • 1 October 2008
St. Andrew

Patron saint of Scotland

Like his brother Peter, St. Andrew was a fisherman in Galilee before becoming one of the twelve apostles. Following Jesus’ death, Andrew preached in Greece and throughout Asia Minor, eventually being crucified in Patras. We know little about the man himself, although the ‘Acts of Andrew’ (an early Christian writing) describes him as having immense supernatural power, enough to defeat armies just by crossing himself.

The precise connection between Scotland and St. Andrew is still disputed. One legend has it that a Pictish king, on the eve of battle, saw a saltire-shaped cloud on the horizon and declared that if the battle was won, St. Andrew would be honoured as the patron saint of Scotland. More likely, however, is that the assocation with Scotland developed gradually, beginning with the transportation of a portion of St. Andrew’s remains from his resting place in Patras to the cathedral in the modern town of St. Andrews. The reason for the relics’ passage from Patras to Scotland is also under debate, but the most likely explanation is that a Roman emperor brought them with him in order to Christianise and pacify the Scottish Picts. During the Scottish reformation the cathedral at St. Andrews was stripped of its altars, images and relics. Unfortunately the Saint’s remains were lost along with the church possessions. Some relics of Scotland’s patron saint remain though: a portion of his shoulder blade resides in Edinburgh, and the relic believed to be St Andrew’s head was moved to Amalfi from the Vatican earlier this year.

Whatever the precise origins, St. Andrew was regarded as the patron saint of Scotland by the middle of the tenth century, and St. Andrew’s Day began to be celebrated on 30 November. As a result of St. Andrew’s wide travels, Scotland shares its national patron with Russia, Sicily, Greece, Malta and Romania. The saltire itself also appears on the flags of Tenerife and the defunct Confederate States of America. The shape of the saltire comes from the shape of the cross St. Andrew was crucified on. Supposedly, Andrew requested this particular method of crucifixion as he did not feel worthy to be executed on the same shaped cross as Jesus.

St. Andrew’s Day is celebrated internationally on 30 November, and traditionally marks the start of the advent period. Bagpipes, dancing and music all feature prominently in the celebrations. There are, however, less familiar traditions. For example, a girl wishing to get married should pray to St. Andrew at midnight on the 29th. To find out whether her prayer will be answered, she can either throw a shoe at a door or peel an apple. The direction in which the shoe lands determines whether she will leave the house with her new husband within a year, and the letter the peel forms will be the first name of her groom-to-be.

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