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13 November 2014

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You are in: Edinburgh, Fife and East Scotland > People & PLaces > Religion & Ethics > Saint Andrew

St Andrews

St Andrews

Saint Andrew

How did the disciple from Palestine, who was crucified in Greece, become the patron saint of Scotland?

The patron saint of Scotland is more a man of myths and legends than hard facts. There are many contradictory accounts about St Andrew's life, death and legacy that have been promoted at various stages in religious history.

Head of St. Andrew, study for 'The Transfiguration', c.1519-20 (pencil on paper) Artist Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio of Urbino) (1483-1520)

Head of St. Andrew by Raphael c.1519-20

According to tradition, Andrew was martyred at Patras in Greece and his remains were taken to Constantinople and later, Amalfi in Italy. Legends associated with King Angus and Saint Regulus seek to explain how Andrew became patron saint of Scotland and how his relics arrived at St Andrews.

Saint Andrew never visited Scotland but centuries after his death it is said that his bones were brought to Scotland to Kilrymont in Fife. Kilrymont was later re-named St Andrews.

There are many schools of thought on how and why Andrew's bones came to Scotland. What is not disputed is that after the bones arrived, Andrew became the focus of national aspiration and the town that became known as St Andrews grew into a powerful religious centre.

One explanation is that King Nechtan of the Picts was looking for a way to promote the Pictish kingdom as a powerful stronghold of Christianity. He had already established a bishopric at Abernethy. After Nechtan abdicated in 738 to become a monk he was succeeded by King Angus I. Whilst Angus was not as pious as Nechtan he was looking to establish a similar sacred centre in the Pict Kingdom as existed in Lindisfarne where St Cuthbert's bones lay and then had Andrew's relics brought to Fife.

Saltire in the sky

Saltire in the sky

Another explanation is that King Angus II who ruled from 820 to 840 was the founder of St Andrews. The Battle of Athelstaneford in 828 gave rise to the legend of the saltire. King Angus leading the Picts and Scots was facing the Anglian army under Athelstan. Angus led prayers for deliverance and was rewarded by seeing a white saltire in the sky (it is rumoured that St Andrew was martyred on a saltire-shaped crucifix). Angus vowed that if he got help from Saint Andrew then Andrew would become patron saint of Scotland. Angus won the battle and established the cult of St Andrew in Scotland, possibly founding St Andrews and giving Scotland the saltire as the national flag.

A common legend is that of St Regulus, who was the keeper of St Andrew's bones at Patras, where Andrew was crucified. Regulus was told in a dream to take St Andrew's bones from Patras and form a church where he landed. It is said St Regulus was shipwrecked at Kilrymont. This established a direct link between St Andrew and Scotland conveniently ignoring the remaining bones that had earlier been taken to Italy.

Saint Andrew by Josef Ribera (1588-1656), oil on canvas. Reproduced by kind permission of Perth Museum and Art Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council.

Saint Andrew. Copyright Perth and Kinross Council.

The legend also conveniently circumvents the fact that St Andrew's bones had ever been on English soil. In reality, the bones were most likely to have been brought to Scotland via Hexham by Acca, the Bishop of Hexham, who was a follower of St Andrew. 

Saint Andrew's Day is celebrated in Scotland on 30 November each year. This is known as the birth date of the saint but probably owes more to the fact that Gregory of Tours (538-594) wrote of St Andrew's miracles and Gregory's birthday happened to fall on 30 November. Saint Andrew's Day as a celebration of all things Scottish is still eclipsed nationally by Burns Night and Hogmanay which are the main focus of Scottish celebrations. In recent years schools in Angus and elsewhere as well as Scottish government staff have been given a public holiday on Saint Andrew's Day but, to date, this is not observed as a public holiday across Scotland.

Image of Saint Andrew by Josef Ribera reproduced by kind permission of Perth Museum and Art Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council, Scotland.

last updated: 13/03/2009 at 12:30
created: 30/10/2008

You are in: Edinburgh, Fife and East Scotland > People & PLaces > Religion & Ethics > Saint Andrew

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