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Saint Andrew
  Saint Andrew, the apostle, is the patron saint of Scotland. His image, along with the ‘saltire’ (or diagonal cross) associated with him, has been used for political and religious purposes from early medieval times until the present.



Saint Andrew: the saint
According to the Gospels, Andrew was a fisherman from Galilee and the first disciple of Christ. Few details of his apostolic career are known, but he was latterly in Byzantium, Thrace, Macedonia, and Thessaly. He is believed to have been martyred by crucifixion at Patrae (or Patras) in Achaia (in modern day Greece), on 30 November, AD 60. His remains were apparently removed to Constantinople about AD 357, but when Constantinople was sacked during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the relics were taken to the cathedral of Amalfi in Italy.

Saint Andrews: the place

The town of St Andrews has its origins in a Pictish settlement, originally called (in Anglicised form) 'Kinrimont' (sometimes later referred to as 'Kilrymont or 'Kilrimont’), probably in its earliest form a monastic church. The church was endowed with land by the Pictish kings and, later, the kings of Scots. Constantine, King of Scots, retired to become abbot of a group of Culdees there in 943. By then it become the chief church of the kingdom. By 1144 the settlement around the monastery had burgh status and was known as ‘St Andrews’. The earliest surviving crown charter is from Malcolm IV (1153-1165) but this is a confirmation of privileges granted to a burgh already in existence. At some point in the 9th century or earlier the church acquired relics of Saint Andrew. These traditionally consisted of three fingers of the saint’s right hand, a part of one of his arms, one kneecap, and one of his teeth. Miracles were attributed to the saint and Kilrymont/St Andrews thrived as a place of pilgrimage: relics and pilgrimage routes, as well as being religious phenomena, were important in economic terms in the middle ages.

How did St Andrews come by the relics?
It is possible that relics relating to the saint may have been brought to the kingdom of the Picts from Hexham, in the neighbouring kingdom of Northumberland, where veneration of Andrew was particularly strong (at least 9 parish churches in Northumberland today are dedicated to St Andrew). After the emergence of the kingdom of Alba (Scotland) by 900 Andrew continued to be venerated. By the 12th century a more elaborate explanation for the acquisition of the relics had been distilled from several myths. According to this the bishop of Patrae, St Regulus (sometimes named ‘St Rule’), obeying an apparition of an angel, removed the relics about AD345, shortly before the Emperor Constantine took the rest of Saint Andrew’s remains to Constantinople. Regulus sailed northwards and founded a church where his ship was wrecked, on the Fife coast. Coincidentally Saint Andrew appeared in a vision to the Pictish king ('Onuist', sometimes referred to as 'Hungus' or 'Angus') at that time, who was about to fight a major battle against the Saxon king (Athelstan), and promised the Picts victory. The grateful king welcomed Regulus and the relics and endowed the fledgling church with the lands around the bay where the saint had landed. The dating of the Regulus legend is problematical, as the above-mentioned kings reigned in the 8th or 9th centuries, not the 4th.

A political legend?
The promotion of the Regulus legend by Scottish kings, nobles and churchmen from the 12th century onwards was politically inspired. Scottish independence had come under threat from England since the late 11th century, and the Scottish Church was contesting a claim to primacy by the archbishop of York. In the medieval world precedence was important, and by successfully promulgating the story of Saint Andrew’s choice of Scotland in the 4th century, the Scots acquired a top-rank patron saint, a separate identity from England, and a date for the supposed foundation of the Scottish Church, predating the conversion of England and Ireland to Christianity by several centuries. This medieval ‘spin-doctoring’ was successful in that it helped persuade the papacy to recognise the independence of Scotland (and the Scottish Church). In a bull of Pope Boniface VIII, addressed to King Edward I of England, 27 June 1299, the pope demands that Edward end the war against Scotland, as it is a land which belongs to the church of Rome, and is not dependent on England - a significant and much-argued point at the time. Included is the sentence: "[Edward] may know how the realm itself [Scotland] was converted, and won to the unity of the Christian faith, by the venerable relics of the blessed Apostle Andrew, with a great outpouring of the divine power”.

National saint
The Regulus myth was incorporated into the national history by medieval historians of Scotland, such as Walter Bower, in his 15th century Scotichronicon. Bower also claimed that Robert the Bruce called on St Andrew’s aid at the Battle of Bannockburn. According to Bower, Bruce, in his rallying speech to the Scottish troops on the morning of the battle, promised that, with Christ as the commander, St Andrew and the martyr St Thomas would fight with the saints of Scotland to achieve victory. Even before this, the image of St Andrew had come to symbolise Scotland. In 1286, when Scotland was ruled by the Guardians of Scotland in the absence of a king, the saint was depicted on the Guardians’ seal, used to authenticate their legal documents and communications to the rest of Europe. The seal included the inscription: "Andrea Scotis dux esto compatriotis" (Andrew be leader of the compatriot Scots). One such sealed document, a precept dated 1292, survives in the National Archives of Scotland. It features the cross of St Andrew, leaving us one of the earliest depictions of the now familiar symbol. It should come as no surprise therefore that reference is made to St Andrew in the most famous claim to Scottish self-determination and what is probably our greatest documentary treasure: the letter of the Barons of Scotland to Pope John XXII, dated April 1320, popularly known as the Declaration of Arbroath.

Imagery of St Andrew
Typically the saint is depicted as an old man with a long beard, holding a book and standing before his cross. From the 14th century until the 17th century the Scottish crown minted gold coins, which had an image of St Andrew on the cross. A later coin minted by James V was called a ‘St Andrew’. In the 15th century there was 'revival' of St Andrew as royal saint. James III (1460-88) founded the chivalric Order of St Andrew (St Andrew was also the patron saint of Duke of Burgundy's Order of the Golden Fleece, from the early-15th century). St Andrew was also to become the patron saint of the Order of the Thistle, the highest honour bestowed by the monarch in Scotland from 1687 until the present day. On the breast star of the Order, instituted by George I in 1714, a silver saltire, with a pointed ray between each of the arms of the cross, surrounds a gold medallion containing a representation of the thistle. In the 19th century the figure of St Andrew and the saltire proliferated in public sculpture and architectural decoration (the saint was particularly popular with Scottish financial institutions, it seems). For further details of the imagery on seals and sculpture see the FAQs opposite.


Frequently Asked Questions

Why were pilgrimages and relics so important to St Andrews?

What does the Declaration of Arbroath say about St Andrew?

Where does the saltire (St Andrew's Cross) come from?

When did St Andrew begin appearing on seals?

What sculptures of St Andrew survive?

St Andrew (click here for larger image)
click here for larger image
St Andrew on the seal of St Andrews burgh.

National Archives of Scotland
Saltire Society
Catholic Encyclopedia
Public Monuments and Sculpture Association

D E R Watt & others (e.d), Scotichronichon by Walter Bower (Aberdeen, 1991)
D M McRoberts, ‘The Glorious House of St Andrews’ in McRoberts (ed.), The Medieval Church of St Andrews (Glasgow, 1976)
Marinell Ash and Dauvit Broun, ‘The adoption of St Andrew as patron saint of Scotland’, in John Higgitt (ed.), Medieval Art and Architecture in the Diocese of St Andrews (1994)
Francis H Groome, Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (New edition,1896)
G W S Barrow, Robert the Bruce (2nd edition, Edinburgh, 1976)
National Museums of Scotland, Angels, Nobles and Unicorns: art and patronage in medieval Scotland (1982)
Ray McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Glasgow (Liverpool, 2002)

St Andrew (click here for larger image)
click here for larger image
St Andrew on the seal of the Guardians of Scotland, 1292.

Alan Borthwick, Robin Urquhart (both SCAN), George MacKenzie, Alison Lindsay (both National Archives of Scotland), Dauvit Broun (University of Glasgow). SCAN is grateful for help received from the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association (PMSA), Edinburgh.