St Andrew and the Saltire

National Museums Scotland

Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and the Saltire (X-shaped cross) is Scotland's flag. Through our collections at National Museums Scotland, discover how he has been represented through the centuries.

Scotland's patron saint
St Andrew was one of Christ's disciples. The cult of St Andrew came to the east of Scotland from Europe in the 9th century. It was distinct from the early Celtic church, which came from Ireland, and the traditions of the different groups of peoples who had lived in Scotland in earlier centuries. The cult soon became well established, and many people went on pilgrimages to St Andrews, its centre. Pilgrims believed that the relics of St Andrew had been brought there by St Rule.

This 14th-century pilgrim's badge mould was found in the churchyard of old St Andrew's Church in North Berwick. Badges signified that the wearer had visited a place of pilgrimage.

By the early 14th century, St Andrew was recognised as 'patron and protector' of the Scots, replacing St Columba. His symbol is the Saltire because, according to legend, he was crucified on an X-shaped cross. This distinctive symbol was therefore adopted as a national emblem.

The Saltire was carried at the field of Bannockburn in 1314 along with the Brec Bennoch of St Columba, which has in the past been associated with the Monymusk reliquary, also in the National Museum of Scotland. However, recent research has questioned this tradition. You can find out more about the Monymusk reliquary here.

The unicorn is Scotland's national animal, and has appeared in Scottish heraldry since the 12th century. This carved oak panel bears the Royal Arms of James V, and dates from around 1540 - 1550. When James VI became king of England and Ireland in 1603, the unicorn on the left of the coat of arms was replaced with the English lion, to show that the countries were now united.

This 17th-century painted wood ceiling boss from Linlithgow Palace portrays a unicorn carrying an early version of the Union Jack, with the Saltire clearly visible within the flag.

This snuff box depicts St Andrew with his cross. Inhaling snuff (powdered tobacco) was widely popular from the late 17th century, A large industry developed around the manufacture of snuffboxes, from extremely expensive gold boxes decorated with precious stones to cheap versions made of wood.

Sir James Black (1924 - 2010) was one of the greatest Scottish scientists of the modern era. His work in medicine and pharmacology has improved the quality of life for millions of people around the world. This Senior Anatomy Medal, awarded to Sir James by the University of St Andrews, 1943, depicts the saint on his cross. You can find out more about Sir James Black here.

A Jacobite icon
Images of St Andrew are also found in our Jacobite collection, in particular on these badges of the Order of the Thistle. The Jacobites were the supporters of James VII, his son James Frances Edward Stuart (James VIII to his followers, the Old Pretender to his foes) and his grandson, Charles Edward Stuart (also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie). The name ‘Jacobite’ is taken from the Latin for James, Jacobus.

The Order of the Thistle was founded by James VII and II in 1687, and after his exile to France, the deposed King continued to use it to encourage loyalty among his supporters. You can find out more about our Jacobite collection here.

The inscription on the blade of this broadsword, made around 1715, proclaims support for the Jacobite cause. The inscription reads: ‘Prosperity to Schotland and no Union’ and ‘For God my Country and King James the 8’. Above it is an image of St Andrew. You can find out more about the broadsword here.

This lavish travelling canteen or picnic set, presented as a gift to Prince Charles Edward Stuart by a Jacobite supporter, features St Andrew on the lid. The canteen is emblazoned with symbols representing the Prince's position, including the three feathers of the Prince of Wales and a pattern of thistles – the Prince was made a Knight of the Thistle shortly after his birth in 1720. Bonnie Prince Charlie was keen to emphasise his Scottish roots to encourage support, dressing in tartan during his ill-fated time in Scotland, which ended with his defeat at the Battle of Culloden. You can find out more about the canteen here.

This rare Jacobite colour, or flag, was carried by the Appin Stewart Regiment at the Battle of Culloden, a battle which saw the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite cause. You can find out more about the Battle of Culloden here.

The Saltire today
For centuries the Saltire has been used as a symbol of the Scottish people, and it continues to represent the nation today – on earth and in space!

This slab of grey granite greets visitors to the Scotland: A Changing Nation gallery at the National Museum of Scotland. Its quartz veins form a natural saltire.

From medieval times to the present day, the Saltire remains one of Scotland's most recognisable symbols. This flag was flown at Holyrood and then taken on space shuttle mission STS-116 to the International Space Station from 9 to 22 December 2006 by astronaut Nick Patrick, whose mother came from Skye.

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Text and images © National Museums Scotland.

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