Today, Scotland will vote on whether to become an independent country.
Since St Andrew is Scotland’s patron saint and the Scottish flag is the Cross of St Andrew, I figured I’d have a peak at exactly how an Apostle who was born in Galilee and died in Greece ended up as the patron saint of the country that gave us bagpipes, haggis, and Susan Boyle.
St Andrew the Apostle
St Andrew the Apostle was the brother of St Peter and the first disciple called by Jesus. He was the one who introduced Peter to Jesus, telling him “we have found the Messiah!” (John 1:41-42) but it’s poor Andrew who is always known as the brother of Simon Peter.
St Andrew preached the gospel in Achaia and Thrace (among other places) and was crucified on a diagonal cross in Patras. This is why a diagonal cross or saltire is known as a St Andrew’s Cross.
He is also said to have founded the first Christian church in Byzantium in Thrace. Byzantium would later became the capital of the Roman Empire, the great city of Constantinople. Unsurprisingly, St Andrew is the patron saint of a whole bunch of Eastern Orthodox countries including Greece, Ukraine, Russia, Romania, and Cyprus.
That all makes sense, right?
How St Andrew Ended Up in Scotland
A medieval legend has that St Andrew converted the Scots to Christianity. Yeah… no. Actually, it was mainly the Irish who did convert Scotland, beginning in the 6th Century. I mean, who else would be insane enough to take on the pagan Scots?
(Sorry, I can’t write a post on Scotland and not have a little Braveheart!)
But in a sense, St Andrew did go to Scotland — at least his relics did. Scotland used to be the home of the relics of St Andrew, specifically a finger, some teeth and a kneecap.
One legend says that the relics were taken to Scotland by a 4th Century monk, St Regulus who was commanded to take them “to the ends of the earth.” Clearly, Scotland was the obvious solution.
More likely, the relics were translated from the monastery of Hexham in Northumberland to the kingdom of Fife in the 8th Century. The bishop there, St Acca, had been trained in Rome and it was probably there that he was given permission to take the relics to the wild, northern island of Britain.
Once in Scotland, they were kept at St Andrews, Fife. St Andrews became one of the largest and most prosperous towns in Scotland and a major pilgrimage site. Because of the presence of his relics, St Andrew was adopted as the patron saint and special protector of the Scottish nation.
Scotland no longer has any relics of St Andrew. The relics, along with the Cathedral, were destroyed in the Protestant Reformation, probably when the Calvinist Reformer John Knox and co visited St Andrews in 1559.
So that was nice of them…
Today, St Andrews is still a site of pilgrimage for many around the world. Now, however, it is as the home of the holy game of golf that draws so many rather than the relics of the first apostle called by Christ.
The only real “relic” of St Andrew in Scotland today is his cross emblazoned on their flag… or faces as the case may be.