St Andrew's Day 2015: the strange tale of Scotland's patron saint

Nov 30, 2014

Also saint of sore throats, fishmongers and old maids, St Andrew has a colourful and eccentric history

St Andrew's Day marks the start of the Scottish winter celebrations with a skirl of bagpipes, a dram of whisky, a sporran full of haggis – and other assorted Scottish stereotypes.

The adventurous apostle St Andrew lived in the first century AD and is remembered for speaking up for the underprivileged.

This year, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is using the occasion to encourage Scots to welcome refugees fleeing from terror in search of peace.

In a special message, she pointed out that St Andrew "championed the minority", ensuring that they were included. She added that he represents the kindness shown by Scots who now welcome people into the country.

"St Andrew, who is renowned as the 'fisher of men', is a perfect embodiment of the warm welcome and kindness which we extend to all who come to Scotland," she said.

"At this time, when the world is touched by terror and people are fleeing their homeland in search of peace, Scotland can draw from its patron saint and continues to be a place of safe haven."

Sturgeon urged Scots to use their national day to "reinforce that warm welcome".

So who exactly was St Andrew - and why is he celebrated in Scotland?

When is St Andrew’s day?

Although it has been celebrated in Scotland on the 30 November for hundreds of years, St Andrew’s day was only made an official public holiday in 2006. Its origins are thought to date from the days of King Malcolm III, at about the time of the Norman conquest of England.

Who has cause to celebrate? 

Not only the Scots. Andrew is also patron saint of Greece, Romania, Russia, Ukraine and the parish of Saint Andrew in Barbados, which was said by its British colonisers to resemble the rolling hills of Scotland. According to folklore, Andrew is also expected to look after gout, singers, sore throats, stiff necks, unmarried women, fishmongers, fishermen and old maids.

Who was St Andrew? 

Andrew, brother of St Peter, lived an adventurous life. He was born between 5 AD and 10 AD in a fishing village in Galilee and became the first disciple of Jesus after meeting with St John the Baptist on the banks of the river Jordan. According to the Bible, it was Andrew who bought the young boy with the loaves and fish for the feeding of the five thousand.

Later Andrew made his way across Europe, spreading the Gospel in Hungary and Poland before travelling to Greece. There, according to the Bible, he passed through a forest inhabited by wolves, bears and tigers, eventually reaching Patras, where he was crucified by the Roman governor Aegeas for preaching Christianity.

Not deeming himself worthy to be hung upright like Jesus, Andrew requested that he be crucified on a diagonal cross – hence the slanted cross or Saltire on the Scottish flag.

How did he end up in Scotland? 

According to legend, an angel appeared to St Rule, a monk charged with watching over the bones of St Andrew in Istanbul, and told him to move them to the far west for safe-keeping. St Rule's boat was ship-wrecked by a storm on the east coast of Scotland, in the place now known as St Andrews. His remains were placed in a chapel where the Cathedral of St Andrew, built in the 11th century, still stands.

His remains were later lost, probably during the Scottish Reformation, when many churches were plundered for relics. The rest of Andrew's remains can be found in Almalfi, Italy, where they have lain since 1210. In 1969, Pope Paul VI sent relics of St Andrew to Scotland. These can now be seen at St Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh. 

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Thanks. Interesting. A very dangerous journey!