Saint Andrew: Scotland's Myth and Identity
A Book Review

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 Most 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 worldwide.

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 Constantinople.

 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 that

"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.

Michael 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.

 We 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 Scotland.

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.

  So 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.

  This 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,


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

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

E-Mail the book's author Michael Turnbull

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