Each November 30th, Scots and their descendants around the world celebrate the feast of the patron saint of Scotland, St. Andrew the Apostle. St. Andrew's Day (or the Feast of Saint Andrew), a venerable tradition, is alive and well in Nova Scotia, and Scottish societies and associations across the province have been actively participating in this well-established Scottish custom during the past few days. As with most Scottish activities, St. Andrew's Day is celebrated with those articles and comestibles associated with "the auld sod" -- the kilt, the tartan, bagpipe tunes, traditional music, traditional dancing, traditional foods, and most important, traditional libations. Most people, however, are unaware of the relationship between Scotland and St. Andrew and more important, of his legacy in Scotland - a country very far removed from his origins in First Century Judea. It is fitting to examine his influence on Scotland's heritage during the week of celebration that bears his name.
The reverence that Scots and their descendants show to St. Andrew has a great deal to do with his place in the national mythology of Scotland. St. Andrew, one of the original Twelve Disciples, met the same fate as Christ - he was sentenced to death by crucifixion. St. Andrew, however, believing his unworthiness to suffer martyrdom in the same manner as Jesus, requested to be executed on a cross of a different shape than that of his Master. His executioners acquiesced, and Andrew was crucified on a diagonal cross instead. This type of cross was to be forevermore associated with St. Andrew.
Andrew's remains were removed by his fellow Christians and buried at Constantinople. In time, these remains became sacred relics of the early church. According to tradition, in the 8th century, a man named Regulas was visited by an angel who informed him that St. Andrew's remains had to be moved to the edge of the world to safety. Regulas obeyed the angel of his dream and traveled across Europe, the relics securely in a chest, eventually settling with his companions in England. In 732 AD one of Regulas' disciples took the relics farther north to the hamlet of Kilryman in the heart of the Kingdom of Pictland, where he established a church. Beneath the altar, according to lore, he buried the chest containing the apostle's bones. As the centuries passed the modest church was replaced with a cathedral in response to the importance of the relics on the site. In turn, Kilryman became the cathedral town of St. Andrew's. Today, the cathedral is in ruins, but Regulas' legacy is memorialized by a tower nearby that bears his name, St. Rule's Tower.
However, the influence of St. Andrew on Scotland does not end there. The image of St. Andrew standing with his diagonal cross entered the heraldry of Scotland, and the image was eventually adapted as a national flag. First used in the late 12th century as a symbol of St. Andrew's Cathedral, by the time of Sir William Wallace and the Wars of Independence in the early 14th century, the image of St. Andrew and his cross was being used on official documents, largely as a state seal. By the late 15th century, the St. Andrew's cross alone was in regular use as a national flag.
One hundred years after St. Andrew's remains came to rest in Kilryman, the armies of ancient Pictland and ancient Northumbria faced each other at Athelstaneford in East Lothian. During a time when all of Britain consisted of minor kingdoms, Angus MacFergus, King of the Picts, defeated the army of Athelstane, King of Northumbria. The night before the battle, the Pictish king witnessed a cross-like formation of white clouds in the azure sky that resembled the cross of St Andrew. King Angus took this sign as a divine portent of his impending victory. Sure enough, the Picts were encourage and were victorious the following morning, and because of the perceived intervention of one of the apostles, the St. Andrew's cross was adopted as a symbol of Pictland. Centuries later, another king, Kenneth MacAlpin forged the ancient Celtic kingdoms into the Kingdom of Scotland, but this Pict heraldic symbol was retained and would come to represent the entirety of an emerging Scottish nation.
It is no small wonder that Scots and their descendants revere what St. Andrew's Day has come to represent: fierce pride in their origins and reflections on their heritage. As can be seen, St. Andrew is a key figure in the national mythology and heritage of Scotland, and his influence deserves greater study. Scots around the world gather on the feast day of Scotland patron saint to celebrate this collective identity. Though not the only Scottish saint worthy of interest (St. Mungo and St. Columba come to mind), St. Andrew evokes such nationalism, sentimentality and pride that November 30th will remain an important day - if not THE most important day - on the Scottish cultural calendar.