St. Andrew’s Day occurs on the 30th of November each year.
St. Andrew was venerated by the ancient peoples of Scotland, most of whom had been converted to Christianity by the likes of St. Columba and their very own St. Mungo or St. Kentigern as he is also known. Quite apart from the foundation myth of Scotland, which has it that the daughter of an Egyptian Pharaoh was exiled from Egypt and settled in Ireland via a sojourn in north west Spain before her descendents emigrated to Dál Riata, there is also the claim that Scots are descended from the Scythians, who lived on the shores of the Black Sea in what is now Romania and Bulgaria and were converted by St. Andrew. While the former has some genealogical truth buried amongst the legend, the latter is plainly preposterous as Scotland was peopled long before St. Andrew converted anybody who might have journeyed west.
Yet another connection with St. Andrew comes from the legend of ‘The Voyage of St. Rule’. A Greek monk, who later became known in Latin as St. Regulus, is said to have been told in a vision to take some of the relics of St. Andrew from Patras and to sail to the ends of the earth with them for their safe keeping. In around 390, he and his companions, half a dozen nuns and monks, arrived in Fife after the proverbial storm tossed voyage. Landing ashore at the ‘end of the world’, they set up a religious community, organised by monastic rules; whence St. Rule.
The problem with all such legends is slotting them into the known historical facts in order to make them credible. Whoever dreamt up the St. Rule fable had to match up the Pictish King Óengus mac Fergusa, who lived from 729 to 761, with Riagail (Regulus/Rule), one of the companions of Columba expelled from Ireland in 563. Interestingly, a manuscript that documents that tale is the Harleian MSS, which is kept in the British Library – so it must be true. In fact, there was a religious settlement, which was the foundation of modern St Andrews. Muckross was founded in around 370AD and by the time of Óengus, it was called ‘Cennrígmonaid’ (‘Cinrigh Móna’ or Kilrymont). The Irish Annals report that its Abbot, Túathalán, died in 747 and the St Andrews Sarcophagus, rediscovered in the 19th Century, is presumed to have been commissioned by Óengus. Coincidently, it became St Androis (St Andrews) in the 10th Century.
It’s most likely that the relics of St Andrew were brought to Britain by St Augustine in 597AD as part of his great mission to bring the ‘Word of God’ to the Anglo-Saxons. Later, in 732, they were brought to Kilrymont by Bishop Acca when he was expelled from the monastery at Hexham, which was dedicated to St Andrew, and sought asylum from Óengus. It’s perhaps not unsurprising to find Óengus’ name amongst a list of benefactors for whom prayers were said in Hexham. Thus, the cult of Saint Andrew probably came to Alba from Northumbria, but the relics of the ‘First Apostle’ went on to become a major pilgrimage destination and, in the 11th Century, the sainted Margaret endowed a ferry, and hostels at North and South Queensferry, for the pilgrims. The relics, initially housed in St Rule’s Tower were later moved to the great medieval Cathedral of St Andrews, where on the 14th of June, 1559, they were destroyed by John Knox and his cronies. The relics that are housed in St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral, Edinburgh, were donated in the 19th and 20th Centuries.
The date of the 30th of November is the date of St Andrew’s crucifixion in Patras, in 60AD, on a diagonally transverse cross, the ‘crux decussata’, which the Romans sometimes used for executions, and at the order of Governor Aegeus. The X-shaped cross, his instrument of martyrdom, has since become a symbol known as the St. Andrew’s cross. It was commonly believed that the Apostle had chosen the Scottish people to look after his relics, and throughout the ‘dark ages’ and the medieval period, St Andrew played a major role in the creation and defining of Scotland. That’s why he’s the Patron Saint and his cross appears on the Saltire.
The traditional story of how St Andrew’s cross came to appear on Scotland’s national flag goes back to the 9th Century Battle of Athelstaneford, in 832. Nigel Tranter uses the entire first chapter of his book ‘Kenneth’, the story of Cináed mac Ailpín, to describe the battle. Colourfully, he has an army of the Picts of Alba, led by the Ard Rŕ, a later Óengus mac Fergusa, accompanied by the Scots of Dál Riata, under Eochaidh ‘the Poisonous’, and those of Strathclyde and Galloway, whose leader was Alpin mac Eochaidh, the father of said Kenneth, on a raid into Lothian, which at the time was under control of the Northumbrians. A much larger army of Angles and Saxons, led by one Æthelstan, threatens Óengus’ retreat with his booty of stolen cattle and battle is ensued. During the savage conflict, the leaders look up to the sky and “There, against the deep blue of the otherwise cloudless afternoon sky, was a cloud-formation in the exact shape of a cross – but a saltire cross, like the letter X, white against the azure”.
Óengus mac Fergusa shouted, “God had not forsaken us! See – He sends his servant Andrew to our aid.” Neatly then, Tranter has him follow up with, “If God gives us [victory], I swear that I will make Andrew the patron saint of my kingdoms”. And the cry went up, “Andrew! Andrew!” and with such inspiration from the apparent divine intervention, the victory was carried. The protagonist, Æthelstan Athelwolfson, was slain in the battle at the Ford of Prora on the River Peffer, hence the village of Athelstaneford. However, Æthelstan should not be confused with the 10th Century King of the same name as he was merely a commander of an army of Eanred, King of Northumbria, sent to expel the invaders.
Between the victory at Athelstaneford and Kilrymont becoming St Andrews in the 10th Century, St Andrew did indeed become the patron saint of Scotland, which by that time had been established as such; more or less. Whether or not it was divinely inspired, records show that the Saltire was in regular use by the 14th Century. In the Acts of Parliament of Robert II in July, 1385, every Scottish soldier was ordered to wear a white Saltire. It wasn’t until the 16th Century that the plain white saltire on a blue field became established.