Andrew, the Patron Saint of Scotland

Andrew, the Patron Saint of Scotland

Biography of St Andrew / St Andrew in Scotland / St Andrew and the Scottish Flag / St Andrew's Day

Scotland’s National Apostle

St Andrew, Scotland’s National ApostleSaint Andrew, one of the Twelve Apostles and brother of Saint Peter, is the patron saint of Scotland as well as of Russia and Greece. He is also the patron saint of fishermen.

Andrew and his brother Peter made their living as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Both men became Apostles, and while Peter symbolically came to represent the Church of the West, Andrew likewise represented the Church of the East. Scotland is one of the few countries to have one of Christ’s disciples as their patron saint.

Saint Andrew is believed to have been crucified on an diagonally transversed cross at Patras in Greece. According to tradition a part of the relics of Saint Andrew were taken to Scotland by Saint Regulus and his bones were laid in a tomb on the coast of Fife, where he founded the settlement of St Andrews.

Saint Andrew's day, November 30th, is Scotland's National Day, for Andrew is Scotland's patron saint and the St Andrew's Cross is Scotland's flag.

The Life of Saint Andrew - Biography

Although Andrew was probably the first of the Apostles, very little is really known about the saint himself. The Bible tells us that Andrew, a fisherman from Galilee, was the "First Called" of Christ's disciples and that he brought his elder brother Peter to become a follower of Jesus.

As one of the Twelve disciples of Jesus, Andrew was present at the Last Supper, witnessed the Ascension and shared in the gifts of the first Pentecost. After the Crucifixion, Andrew travelled the countries bordering the Black Sea and spread the Christian religion in Asia Minor and in Greece. He is believed to have suffered martyrdom on a diagonal cross at Patras in Greece in 60 AD.

In 357 the relics of Saint Andrew were removed from Patras and deposited in the church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople (now Istambul in Turkey) together with those of Saint Luke and Saint Timothy. However, one legend tells that a Greek monk called Saint Regulus was warned in a dream by an angel who told him to remove the saint's bones to the "ends of the Earth" to keep them safe.

The monk removed a tooth, an arm bone, a kneecap and some fingers from Saint Andrew's tomb, and transported them as far away as he could...

St Andrews: The resting place of Saint Andrew in Scotland

After a lengthy voyage, Saint Regulus was shipwrecked off the east coast of Scotland, near a Pictish settlement that was soon to become known as St Andrews. The relics were placed first in a small chapel and then later in the Cathedral of St Andrews, which was started in 1160 and took 158 years to build. And so the town of St Andrews became the religious capital of Scotland and an important site of Christian pilgrimage.

There are other legends of how Saint Andrew and his remains became associated with Scotland. Another version of the story is that Acca, the Bishop of Hexham, brought back some of the saint's relics from a trip to Rome and the King of the Scots, Angus MacFergus, installed them at Saint Andrews to enhance the prestige of the new diocese.

It is not known what happened to the relics of Saint Andrew which were stored in St. Andrews Cathedral. It is believed that these were destroyed during the Scottish Reformation, when the Protestant Church won out over Roman Catholism and removed all traces of Catholic idolatry.

The bones were lost many centuries ago, but St Rule’s (St Regulus) tower still stands among the ruins of the ancient St Andrews Cathedral. The site of the relics is now marked by a plaque in the ruins of the Cathedral.

However, not all of Andrew’s bones were originally sent to Scotland. The larger part of the saint's remains were stolen from Constantinople by the crusaders in around 1210 and taken to Amalfi, in Italy, where most of them still remain. In 1879 the Archbishop of Amalfi sent some fragments of the saint’s shoulder blade to the Roman Catholic community in Scotland. Further relics were given to the Catholic church in Scotland in 1969 by Pope Paul VI. These fragments are currently on display in a reliquary in St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh.

The Saltire: Saint Andrew's Cross and the National Flag of Scotland

Scotland's national flagThe national flag of Scotland is called the Saltire, the diagonal cross on which Saint Andrew had been martyred. The colours of the flag represent the white clouds and the blue sky.

The national flag of Scotland is reputedly the oldest national flag in Europe.

Legend has it that, in 832 AD, an army of Picts and Scots under King Angus Mac Fergus invaded the region of Lothian to drive out the Angles of Northumbria. Lothian was then and for long afterwards Northumbrian territory. There are various versions of the tale but it is generally agreed that King Angus was marching southwards with his army, when they found themselves confronted by a larger force of Angles under their leader Athelstan.

Defeat seemed almost certain, but the night before battle King Angus prayed for divine guidance and Saint Andrew appeared to him promising victory.

The next day, when battle began, a white cloud in the form of a Saltire floated across the blue sky above the Picts and Scots, encouraging them in their fight and causing the Angles to flee the field. King Angus won a decisive victory and decreed that Andrew would be the patron saint of Scotland.

The battle and the national flag are commemorated by a memorial to the Battle of the Saltire at Athelstaneford, 30 km from Edinburgh. The visitor attractions include the Flag Heritage Centre, the Saltire Memorial and the historic Parish Church and graveyard. Above the monument on a flagpole permanently flies a Saint Andrew’s Cross flag, which is floodlit at night.

Saint Andrew and Scotland's National Day

November 30th is St Andrew's Day, a day dedicated to celebrating Scottish traditions and culture. Festivities traditionally feature Scottish food and ceilidhs, the traditional Scottish dances.

However, in stark contrast to Ireland where St Patrick’s Day has become one of the biggest celebrations of the year, Scots have never treated their national day with any great reverence, where the position of St Andrew’s Day is wholly unofficial.

Leading Scots from politics, sport and business have called for St Andrew’s Day to be declared an official public holiday. The growing campaign for St Andrew’s Day to be made a national holiday was taken to the Scottish Parliament in November 2004 as the independent MSP Dennis Canavan launched his proposed bill for 30 November to be turned into a day of national celebration.

"Scotland is one of the few countries in the world which does not have a national day. We are also at the bottom of the European league in terms of the number of public holidays", Mr Canavan said. "St Andrew’s Day, if it were declared a public holiday, would be a feast day of our patron saint, as well as a celebration of our national identity and Scotland’s diversity of cultures, faiths and ethnic origins."

Paul Scott, the president of the Saltire Society, said: "Every country in the world has a public holiday on its national day. It is the one day of the year you can celebrate your satisfaction and pleasure of belonging to the country you belong to."

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen bemoaned the fact that St Andrew’s Day seemed to have a stronger profile among ex-pats than in Scotland. "It is widely celebrated abroad... It is so odd that at home, it is not. Maybe we are too inverted and self-critical."

The commercial potential of a higher-profile national day was stressed further by Lord Macfarlane: "As a businessman, I can see enormous potential in such a joyous celebration of St Andrew’s Day. Around the world there are an estimated 30 million people of Scots descent. In whisky, tartan, golf and international reputation for business sagacity, Scotland has the most readily recognised national symbols of any country in the world. But as a nation, are we maximising these tremendously strong marketing assets adequately for the long-term benefit of Scotland plc? I do not believe that we are, and I share the vision that the time has come to capitalise on these assets and make St Andrew’s Day a focus for worldwide celebration of Scotland and Scottish achievement."

A recent poll of 1,000 Scots, conducted by Mori, showed 75 per cent of the population wanted a bank holiday on 30 November. A further 80 per cent of those polled said Scotland’s national day should be one "of pride and national celebration akin to St Patrick’s Day".

Jean Pouliquen, November 2004

Do you want to know more about Saint Andrew?

» Kingdoms of Fife
The official tourism website for St Andrews and the Kingdom of Fife.

» St. Andrew's Week at St. Andrews
During the St Andrew’s Week festival (21st November-2nd December), the town of St Andrews holds a varied programme featuring concerts of traditional and classical music, exhibitions of arts, crafts and photography, ceilidhs and a fireworks display.

Celtic Countries is the online magazine for people who enjoy the Celtic nations, their natural splendour, culture, and lifestyles.

Subscribe to the Newsletter

Sign up for our monthy Celtic Countries Magazine email newsletter for the latest stories from our website.