The Story of St Andrew

Learn about St Andrew's connection to Scotland through the National Library of Scotland's collections

By National Library of Scotland

St. Andrew the Apostle by Simone Martini (1284-1344) from the Metropolitan Museum of Art collections

Music from the Annual General Meeting of St Andrew's Society, Aberdeen (1790) by St Andrew's Society, AberdeenNational Library of Scotland

Patron Saint of Scotland

St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, and his feast day is celebrated on 30 November. St Andrew’s Day was declared a bank holiday by the Scottish Parliament in 2006 and is the focus for a celebration of Scottish culture. 

Stained glass window depicting St Peter and St Andrew (2009) by Evelyn SimakNational Library of Scotland

Who was St Andrew?

According to the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, Jesus called Andrew and Peter at the same time. Andrew told Peter he’d seen the Messiah and took him to where he was. Early church legends recount that he travelled to the area around the Black Sea, taking the Gospel to the people there.

The Martyrdom of Saint Andrew (1595) by UnknownNational Library of Scotland

Andrew was martryed in Patras, Greece. He chose to be crucified on an X-shaped cross (crux decussata) to distinguish himself from Christ, who was crucified on an upright cross.

Carte de Constantinople (1814) by I. Kauffer & Jean Baptiste LechevalierNational Library of Scotland

St Jerome records that in 357 St Andrew’s relics (bones) were taken from Patras to Constantinople, the new city and capital of the Holy Roman Empire at the command of the Roman Emperor Constantine.

Engraving of Rome in the 16th century (1510) by UnknownNational Library of Scotland

Due to the schism of the western and eastern Churches, the bones were moved to Amalfi, Italy. Andrew's head was later moved to St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, but returned to Patras by Pope Paul VI in 1964. 

St Andrews (1804) by John Claude Nattes (drawing), James Fittler (etchings)National Library of Scotland

How did St Andrew come to be associated with Scotland?

There are several legends linking the saint to Scotland. One says that Regulus (or Rule), a monk from Patras carried some of the bones to the Pictish settlement of Kilrymont inspired by a dream that he had. Regulus later became a saint.

View of the Cathedral of St Andrews with the Chapel of St. Rule from the East (1797) by UnknownNational Library of Scotland

This site, on the shores of Fife, was renamed St Andrews. St Rule’s Church was built there in 1130  to house the relics, and the 33m tall St Rule’s Tower (which still stands) would have helped to guide pilgrims who came to visit this shrine. The church was the largest church in Medieval Scotland.

Map of East Lothian (1736) by John AdairNational Library of Scotland

Another legend tells how, in 835 the Pictish King Angus saw the white cross of St Andrew against the bright blue sky on the battlefield at Athelstaneford (now in East Lothian), a portent of victory for the Picts and Scots against Northumbria.

Arms of the Johnstons of Annandale and Corehead (1905)National Library of Scotland

After this time, the St Andrew’s cross or saltire was taken up in battle, and increasingly used by the Scottish royalty and nobility as an emblem of Scotland. 

Lennox Seals (1834)National Library of Scotland

By 1286, the Great Seal of the Guardians of Scotland – used to authenticate official documents – had incorporated the St Andrew’s cross. In 1385, the Scottish Parliament also decreed that soldiers should display the saltire 'before and behind'.

James III King of ScotsNational Library of Scotland

In 1672, when the Public Register of Arms was established, the St Andrew’s cross was the cross also featured on Scottish coins of the 14th century and was recorded as the official badge of Scotland. 

Model of the Great Michael (2011) by George Scammell (model maker), Kim Traynor (photographer)National Library of Scotland

The cross also featured on Scottish coins of the 14th century and was used on masts to distinguish Scottish ships. In 1511, the Great Michael – the largest warship of the time – sailed under the saltire.

Witches in Flight (1489) by Ulrich MolitorNational Library of Scotland

Local superstition records how, in parts of Scotland, the St Andrew’s cross was placed over fireplaces to stop witches from flying down the chimney and entering the house. 

Frontispiece, History of the St Andrew's Society of Charleston, South Carolina (1929) by St Andrew's Society of Charleston, South CarolinaNational Library of Scotland

 In 1729, Scottish immigrants formed the St Andrew’s Society in Charleston, South Carolina, the oldest Scottish society of its type in the world. This was followed by the St Andrew’s Society of the State of New York – the oldest charity of any kind registered in New York, and with the aim of helping the poor of the city.    

St. Andrew's Society of Peking, China (1924) by St Andrew's Society, PekingNational Library of Scotland

From these origins, St Andrew’s Societies have spread across the world, and are active today in supporting and aiding their local communities. St Andrew's day is known worldwide as a celebration of Scotland.

St Andrew's Day (1637) by Robert Young (printer)National Library of Scotland

Some of the relics of St Andrew are preserved in the National Shrine of St Andrew, St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh and today St Andrew's day on November 30th is marked worldwide as a celebration of Scottish culture.

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