How did a fisherman become Scotland's patron saint?

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1. The man from the Middle East

In Scotland, 30 November is an annual day of celebration known as St Andrew’s Day.

Saint Andrew is synonymous with Scotland. The Scottish Government headquarters is called St Andrew’s House and the country’s oldest university bears his name. He’s even represented in the Saltire flag, which is also known as the Saint Andrew’s cross.

Andrew is Scotland’s patron saint, yet this man from the Middle East never set foot in the country during his lifetime.

2. From fisherman to fisher of men

So just who was Andrew? He was born into a family of fishermen in the port of Bethsaida between AD 5 and 10. Andrew became Jesus’ first disciple and features in prominent moments of the New Testament.

He travelled through Europe and Russia to spread the Good News about Jesus. In Patras, Greece he was captured by the authorities and sentenced to death after he persuaded a Roman official’s wife to reject the pagan gods. He felt unworthy of an upright cross like Jesus’, and instead requested a diagonal cross for his execution.

It was only after his death that Andrew came to Scotland. Quite how the remains of his body ended up here is matter of debate. One story says they were on board a ship wrecked off the Fife coast. Another says they were brought by one of his admirers, an English bishop from Hexham.

Both stories feature him appearing in the visions of Pictish kings to promise them victory over their enemies. In gratitude for this support churches were named in his honour and the X shaped cross was adopted as a symbol of Scotland.

Whatever route his remains may have taken, we know that by AD 908 the town of St Andrews had replaced the royal base of Abernethy as the religious centre of Scotland.

3. Sharing Saint Andrew

Scotland is not the only nation to have a special relationship with Saint Andrew. Click or tap on the labels below to find out more about the connections that other countries have with him.

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Image credits: Tim Gainey/Alamy, Oren Neu Dag, Peter Etchells/Alamy, Peter Probst/Alamy, Anestis Samourkasidis/Alamy, eFesenko Alamy, Andrii Chernov/Alamy, Mark Summerfield/Alamy.

4. Becoming part of the national identity

Saint Andrew’s place in Scottish identity was further strengthened during the Wars of Independence in the late 13th and early 14th Century.

Both William Wallace and Robert the Bruce prayed to Saint Andrew for support before battles.

The English could have claimed Andrew – 600 of their churches were named after him – but the Scots got in there first. This was probably shrewd politics on the part of the Scots. Andrew was important in his own right – he was an Apostle who lived and walked with Jesus.

But more than that, he was the brother of Peter, the first Pope, so to use his name implied a family bond between Scotland and the Papacy.

In 1320 the Declaration of Arbroath appealed to the Pope to recognise that Scotland was a nation independent of England. This letter specified that Saint Andrew keeps the Scots “under his protection forever”.

Nearly 700 years later Scots continue to recognise Andrew’s protection. The date of his death, 30 November, has been declared an official bank holiday and the fisherman from the Sea of Galilee is celebrated by Scots around the globe.

5. Shared Scottish icons

Saint Andrew isn't the only Scottish icon shared with other nations.


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Now worn worldwide, there is debate as to where tartan originated. Some believe it came from Ireland and others from central Europe.


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Like tartan, the origin of bagpipes is a matter for debate, with both ancient Egypt and Ireland laying claim.




We think of porridge as a traditional Scottish breakfast meal but variations on the dish are eaten across the world from China to Africa.