Andrew: Scotland’s Myth and Identity

A Book Review

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people, whether or not Scottish, would be able to identify
St. Andrew as the patron saint of Scotland, and it is
likely that some will know of the history of the Scottish
flag, the Saltire, or St Andrew’s Cross. I suspect fewer
would realise that the “Scottish” St. Andrew was the
brother of Simon Peter, and an Apostle of Jesus.

It is from
this starting point that Michael Turnbull’s book takes us
forward to examine in some detail how it was that a
fisherman from Bethsaida on the shores of the Sea of
Gallilee came to be the Patron Saint of Scotland and
Russia and the focus for Scottish traditionalists

While it is
clear that Andrew the apostle shared in the daily life and
ministry of Jesus there is not that much reference to him
in the Bible. He appears to have been a practical man who
preached in Greece, the Ukraine, Poland and

 He is
thought to have been crucified at Patras in Greece about
70 AD by being tied to a Y shaped olive tree and left
there until he died. The cross – the X shape, came along
with tenth century elaboration of his story and the use of
the Greek symbol for the first letter of Christ. So the
St. Andrew’s Cross does not have its origin with the death
of the Saint.

What is
pointed out, however, is that only the bare bones of St.
Andrew’s life and character are known, a fact that made
him “a particularly suitable vehicle for imaginative
theological transformation”. Thus over the centuries, St.
Andrew has been credited with many miraculous works in
many countries which have been sustained by oral
traditions and the exaggerations of the story tellers such

“Andrew had become a folk hero in the mould of Sinbad
the Sailor”.

It is this
idea of St. Andrew, and the cult following that developed
around his alleged mystical deeds and the healing powers
of his relics that underpinned missionary work and
pilgrimage to Scotland in later times.

Turnbull’s rounded examination of St. Andrew opens new
vistas for the reader and offers alternative views on
issues such as the origin of the Saltire. On the one hand
there is the vision and promise of allegiance to Christ by
Constantine before his victory at the Milvain Bridge,
outside Rome in 312 AD. Alternatively there is the
traditional origin through the vision of King Angus Mac
Fergus, High King of Alba, at Athelstaneford before a
battle in 832 AD which itself echoes the experience of
Brude, King of the Picts at the battle of Nechtansmere in
685 AD at Dunnichen near Forfar.

learn also how the relics (parts of the body, bones,
raiment etc.) of saints were attributed with great healing
powers and widely sought after by rulers of both country
and the Church. One wonders just how many relics can be
made from the human skeleton given the competition for
ownership, although in St. Andrew’s case the body and the
head became separated. We follow the trail of relics and
the influence of St. Andrew from Patras to Constantinople,
Rome, Amalfi, Canterbury, Rochester, Hexham and into

We learn of
Augustine’s influence c. 597 AD and follow the works of
Wilfrid, Bishop of Northumbria, the Celtic monks the
Culdees, and Regulus, or St. Rule, and his vision to go to
Mount Royal, Aka Kilrymont in Fife.The church known as St.
Rule’s was built about 1070 AD with a square tower 30
meters high that pilgrims could see from afar. The town of
St. Andrews became one of the prime centres for pilgrimage
in Europe such that King David I of Scotland passed laws
to protect pilgims. The importance given pilgrims even led
to the population of the city being capped at 5,000
inhabitants so that they were able to house and feed the
visitors. This focus on pilgrimage may explain the layout
of the town in the rough form of a scallop shell, the
symbol of the pilgrim, with the main roads radiating from
(and leading to) the religious centre.

On the
political front the Archbishops of York and Canterbury
sought to control St. Andrews, but Pope Celestine III
issued a Papal Bull in 1192 according “special daughter”
status and thereby extended Rome’s influence to most of
Scotland. St. Andrews Cathedral was consecrated in July,
1318, during which service King Robert the Bruce announced
an annual endowment of 100 merks sterling for its upkeep
as thanksgiving for his victory at Bannockburn four years
before where soldiers wearing the white cross had knelt in
prayer beforehand and invoked the help of St. Andrew – a
unique gesture for its time.

we come to the 16th century when St . Andrews was already
feeling the effect of a decline in pilgrimages and the
cult status of relics. John Knox, father of the Protestant
Reformation in Scotland, arrived in St. Andrews on 11 June
1559 and preached for three days against “monuments of
idolatrie” resulting in the sacking of the Cathedral.
There followed the removal of all elements of Roman
theological and liturgical tradition throughout Scotland.

The Saint
was most likely to be called on in times of war and there
is little doubt that “St. Andrew” was the battle cry of
the Scots. The adoption of the Saltire along with symbols
associated with him on coins and seals and their
significance is a reflection of the cult status accorded
him. It is thought that the adoption of St. Andrew as the
Patron Saint of Scotland stems from the reign of King
Malcolm Canmore (1057 – 1093) from which dates an annual
festival. November 30 has been Saint Andrews`s day by
custom and practice although it is not a recognised
holiday in Scotland. Despite this, the many branches of
the Society of St. Andrew around the world celebrate the
day with festivity and banquets.

So what do
we have? An Apostle of Jesus about whom not much is known;
who preached in Asia Minor and never got to Scotland; who
is thought to have been crucified by being tied to a Y
shaped tree; a remarkable trail of relics of a body that
was separated from its head; a cult status founded on oral
tradition and exaggerated story telling; a mediaeval
pilgrimage centre named after him; and traditional tales
of Divine assistance, sometimes written in the sky, in
times of great stress. Collectively, however, the idea of
St Andrew as a force for good is a focus for unity and a
powerful symbol of a proud Scotland.

small book of only 124 pages is for the reader with an
open mind wishing to have a better perspective of their
Scottish heritage. It does not go out of its way to
destroy cherished myths but explains and elaborates
credible alternatives. Clearly the result of deep research
and with a good bibliography for those who want to read
more of a topic, it is a well from which to draw deeply
for a wider knowledge and understanding of St. Andrew and
the Saltire. I found the concluding chapters with views
about modern Scotland thought-provoking. Since publication
of the book there has been the creation of a Scottish
Parliament and delegation of powers from Westminster and
we must wait and see if St. Andrew receives his formal
Day. Meanwhile I heartily endorse the words of a Head
teacher who said,


think it is important that the children know there is a
patron saint and be aware that it is not just any other
day. “

Andrew Scotland’s Myth and Identity
Author Michael TRB Turnbull. Saint Andrew Press (1997)

E-Mail the book’s author

Michael Turnbull