Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and Saint Andrew’s Day is the feast day of Saint Andrew which is celebrated on 30 November each year.
Saint Andrew was an agile and hardy Galilean fisherman whose name means Strong and who also had good social skills. He brought the first foreigners to meet Jesus and shamed a large crowd of people into sharing their food with the people beside them. Today we might describe him as the Patron Saint of Social Networking!
As Scotland slowly became a nation it needed a national symbol to rally round and motivate the country. Saint Andrew was an inspired choice and the early Picts and Scots modelled themselves on Saint Andrew and on one of his strong supporters, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, whose statue you can see today in York, where he visited his father, a Roman General then trying to force the Picts to go back north.
Although a pagan who worshipped the Roman sun god Sol, Constantine later became a Christian and went on to make Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.
It all began near Rome in 312 AD when, on the night of a make-or-break battle against a rival emperor, he saw the symbol X P (Greek for the first two letters of ‘Christ’) in the dazzling light of the setting sun and then had a dream in which he was promised victory. Constantine ordered his troops to hold the Christian cross at the front of the army, and won.
In a similar way, around 500 years later, King Angus of the Picts, facing a larger army of Saxons at Athelstaneford in what is now East Lothian in Scotland, was overwhelmed by a blinding light the night before the battle and, during the night, had a dream. The message he was given was that he would see a Cross in the sky and would conquer his enemies in its name.
The following morning King Angus looked into the rising sun and saw the Saltire Cross in its blinding light. This filled him and his men with great confidence and they were victorious. From that time Saint Andrew and his Saltire Cross were adopted as the national symbols for an emerging Scotland.
The Saltire Cross became the heraldic arms that every Scot is entitled to fly and wear. However, its colour was not white at first but silver (Argent), as in heraldry white stands for silver.
The first time the colour of the Saltire is mentioned is in the Acts of Parliament of King Robert II in July 1385 where every Scottish soldier was ordered to wear a white Saltire. If the uniform was white, then the Saltire was to be stitched onto a black background.
Ten fascinating facts about Saint Andrew, Scotland’s patron saint:
1. Andrew was a Galilean fisherman before he and his brother Simon Peter became disciples of Jesus Christ.
2. He was crucified by the Romans on an X-shaped cross at Patras in Greece and, hundreds of years later, his remains were moved to Constantinople and then, in the 13th century, to Amalfi in southern Italy where they are kept to this day.
3. Legend has it that a Greek monk known as St Rule or St Regulus was ordered in a vision to take a few relics of Andrew to the ‘ends of the earth’ for safe keeping. He set off on a sea journey to eventually come ashore on the coast of Fife at a settlement which is now the modern town of St Andrews.
4. In 832 AD Andrew is said to have appeared in a vision to a Pictish king the night before a battle against the Northumbrians in what is now the village of Athelstaneford in East Lothian. On the day of the battle a Saltire, an X-shaped cross, appeared in the sky above the battlefield and the Picts were victorious.
5. The Saltire, or Saint Andrew’s Cross, was subsequently adopted as the national emblem and flag of the Scots.
6. Andrew was first recognised as an official patron saint of Scotland in 1320 at the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath an appeal to the Pope by Scottish noblemen asserting Scotland’s independence from England.
7. The presence of Andrew’s relics in Scotland – a tooth, a kneecap, arm and finger bones – meant that St Andrews became a popular medieval pilgrimage site although they were destroyed in the 16th century during the Scottish Reformation.
8. In 1879 the Archbishop of Amalfi gifted Andrew’s shoulder blade to St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh. Pope Paul VI donated further relics in 1969.
9. Andrew is also the patron saint of Greece, Russia, Romania, and Barbados. Remnants of the cross he was crucified on remain in the St Andrew’s Cathedral Patras in Greece. Saint Andrew was the first bishop there and then crucified by the Romans.
10. His patronage extends to fishmongers, gout, singers, sore throats, spinsters, maidens, old maids and women wishing to become mothers.
If you are planning a holiday here in central Scotland at the end of November in one of our self-catering holiday cottages why not check out what is planned for St Andrew’s Day celebrations near you.