St Andrew: Who was the patron saint of Scotland?

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

LAST UPDATED AT 14:44 ON Fri 29 Nov 2013

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.

As this year’s feast day approaches, we examine the eccentric origins of the Scottish saint.

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 Andrew’s. 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.  · 

Disqus - noscript

Thanks. Interesting. A very dangerous journey!

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.