Saint Andrew is celebrated and remembered on the 30th November, most famously in Scotland, but what do we know about him as a historical figure? The truth is, not an awful lot in real detail, albeit with one note to say Andrew has a name that means “manly” in Greek. However, here are a few worthwhile pieces of information that we do know.
On the banks of the River Jordan, Andrew met John the Baptist and became the first named Apostle of Jesus. Early Byzantine stories refer to him as ‘protokletos’, meaning ‘first called’. It was Andrew who took the boy with the loaf of bread and fish to Jesus before he fed the five thousand.
It’s a misconception that Saint Andrew was born in Scotland. He was actually born in the port town of Bethsaida, Palestine, sometime between 5 and 10 AD. His family were fishermen. Andrew’s brother, (another Saint) Peter, was also one of the twelve disciples of Jesus.
There are a couple of different myths about how Andrew came to be the patron saint of Scotland. One story tells of how his relics (bones) were looked after by a monk known as Rule, and one day Rule was told, in a vision, to hide some of them. A few days later, the emperor Constantine moved Andrew’s body to Constantinople and Rule was then informed, again by a vision, to take the bones that he’d hidden, travel west by ship, and lay the foundations of a church wherever they made land. During a storm, Rule’s ship was to be forced ashore near to the village of Kilrymont (which would later become the town of St. Andrews). A second story tells of how his bones were taken to the town around 732 AD, but this time by the Bishop of Hexham.
A few years later, there was a battle between the Northumbrian King Athelstane and the Pictish King Angus MacFergus. Saint Andrew appeared to Angus in a dream and promised him victory. Athelstane was killed in the battle and, to give thanks, Angus gave gifts to the church in St. Andrews and ordered that the cross of the saint become the badge of the Picts. Whilst devotion to Saint Andrew grew over the centuries, it wasn’t until 1320, when Scotland’s independence was declared with the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath, that he officially became Scotland’s patron saint.
Andrew was a well-travelled man, carrying out his missionary work in Asia Minor, the Black Sea, Greece, Hungary, Russia and Poland. In Greece he supposedly fought his way through a forest inhabited by bears, wolves, and tigers.
Around 60 or 70 AD, Andrew was captured in Patras, Greece, and sentenced to death by crucifixion. Considering himself unworthy of being crucified on an upright cross as Jesus Christ had been, Andrew requested that the cross be laid diagonally. He hung on the cross for three days and it is this diagonal cross that formed his insignia, and which now appears on the Scottish flag.