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Celebrating Saint Andrew's Day: A Guide to Scottish Holidays

Part 1: Saint Andrew and the Saltire


Carving of Saint Andrew circa 1500 located

Saint Andrew and His Ministry

Saint Andrew's life is shrouded in both historical accounts and enduring legends, painting a picture of a man whose influence extended far beyond his time. As one of the original twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, Andrew's journey was defined by his unwavering commitment to spreading the teachings of Christianity.


Born in Bethsaida, a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee, Andrew was the elder brother of Simon Peter. He was originally a disciple of John the Baptist before joining Jesus, who recognized Andrew's devoutness and called him to become a "fisher of men."


Andrew's encounters with Jesus were transformative. He was present during pivotal moments of Jesus' ministry, witnessing the miracles performed and the profound teachings imparted. He shared in the responsibility of spreading the Gospel message, traveling extensively to preach and convert individuals to Christianity. An early Christian Historian, Eusbieus quoted other writers that Andrew had preached in Scythia and Ukraine and thus became the patron Saint of Ukraine and Russia.


Andrew's humility and dedication to his faith earned him a place of reverence among early Christians. His approach was characterized by inclusivity, welcoming all to embrace the teachings of Christ regardless of social status or background.


Becoming a Scottish Saint

Apart from the record in the New Testament, the only other existing information we have is from a letter from local priests in Greece outlining the tradition of his death. According to that tradition, Andrew, while preaching in the city of Patras in Achaea (modern-day Greece), faced persecution for spreading Christianity. The story goes that Nero, fearful of the rise of Christianity, appointed a Roman governor over the region named Aegates or Aegeas. When the Governor's wife fell ill, St. Andrew attended and healed is wife. This excited the Christian community and angered the Governor. Aegeas then ordered all of the people that they should worship the Roman gods, including Caesar. Andrew refused and was given the choice of death.


Andrew gladly accepted his fate. However, Andrew requested a specific form of crucifixion, feeling unworthy to die on a cross in the same manner as Jesus Christ.

Andrew's request was to be placed on a diagonal or X-shaped cross, believing it would not only differentiate his death from that of Jesus but also express his humility. He deemed himself unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as the Savior and, thus, opted for this unique form of execution.


The intertwining of Saint Andrew's life with Scotland emerged through a blend of historical accounts and folklore. Legends suggest that after his crucifixion, relics of Saint Andrew were transported to the shores of what is now Scotland. Over time, this association grew, and by the medieval era, Andrew was widely recognized as the patron saint of Scotland.


The Saltire

The Saltire, Scotland's national flag, embodies centuries of history and myth surrounding the patron saint, Andrew. Legend intertwines Saint Andrew's legacy with the origins of the Saltire, asserting that his remains were transported to the eastern shores of Scotland.

The tale further narrates that during a critical battle between the Picts and Scots against and the Northumbrians in the 9th century.According to legendary accounts given in 16th-century historiography, Óengus II in AD 832 led an army of Picts and Scots into battle against the Angles, led by Æthelstan, near modern-day Athelstaneford, East Lothian. The legend states that he was heavily outnumbered and hence whilst engaged in prayer on the eve of battle, Óengus vowed that if granted victory he would appoint Andrew as the patron saint of Scotland. On the morning of battle white clouds forming an X shape in the sky were said to have appeared. Óengus and his combined force, emboldened by this apparent divine intervention, took to the field and despite being inferior in numbers were victorious. Having interpreted the cloud phenomenon as representing the crux decussata upon which Andrew was crucified, Óengus honoured his pre-battle pledge and duly appointed Andrew as the patron saint of Scotland. This celestial intervention was interpreted as a divine sign, inspiring the Picts to a decisive victory. As a result, the Saltire became a symbol of divine favor and protection, solidifying Saint Andrew's association with Scotland and ultimately leading to the adoption of the Saltire as the national flag.


Over the centuries, the Saltire evolved into a powerful emblem, not only representing the martyrdom of Saint Andrew but also embodying the resilience and unity of the Scottish people. Its significance transcends mere representation on flags, weaving into the fabric of Scottish identity. The Saltire is proudly displayed during national celebrations, sporting events, and international gatherings, symbolizing the rich heritage, values, and enduring spirit of Scotland and its people.


The Significance of Saint Andrew

His significance in Scotland is symbolized by the Saltire, the national flag bearing the diagonal cross attributed to him. The adoption of Saint Andrew as the patron saint of Scotland solidified his legacy within the nation's history, culture, and identity.

Saint Andrew's life continues to inspire believers and non-believers alike, serving as a beacon of faith, humility, and inclusivity. His journey from a humble fisherman to a revered apostle echoes through time, carrying a message of unity, compassion, and dedication to one's beliefs—an enduring legacy celebrated not only in Scotland but across the globe.


Let us know what you do for Saint Andrew's day. For our next post we will share some of the modern and traditional methods of celebrating Saint Andrew's day both in Scotland and abroad.

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