St Andrew's Day 2021: Who is Saint Andrew? Why Scotland celebrates St Andrew - and what happened to his bones?

St Andrew’s Day sees Scotland celebrate its patron saint, here’s everything you need to know about who Saint Andrew is, why we celebrate him in Scotland and where St Andrew’s relics are now

Wednesday, 24th November 2021, 6:10 pm
Updated Wednesday, 24th November 2021, 7:00 pm
St Andrew's Day 2021: Who is Saint Andrew? Why Scotland celebrates St Andrew - and what happened to his bones? (Image credit: Shutterstock/Getty Images via Canva Pro)
St Andrew's Day 2021: Who is Saint Andrew? Why Scotland celebrates St Andrew - and what happened to his bones? (Image credit: Shutterstock/Getty Images via Canva Pro)

The arrival of St Andrew’s Day, celebrating Scotland’s patron saint – Saint Andrew the Apostle - is just around the corner.

Falling on 30 November each year, St Andrew's Day sees Scots commemorate a patron saint immortalised at the heart of Scottish heritage and culture – with Saint Andrew’s presence seen in everything from the Scottish Saltire flag to St Andrew’s University.

But the apostle’s roots in Galilee and patronage in countries worldwide still causes plenty of confusion over Saint Andrew’s links to Scotland.

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St Andrew's Cathedral in St Andrews, Fife (Image credit: Getty Images via Canva Pro)

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The other countries that adopted St Andrew as patron saint

Here’s everything you need to know about Saint Andrew and why we celebrate him in Scotland on St Andrew’s Day.

Who is Saint Andrew?

Known as Andrew of Apostle, Saint Andrew is believed to have been born in Galilee, Israel in between 5 AD and 10 AD while it was under the domain of the Roman Empire.

According to the Bible’s New Testament, Andrew and his brother Simon Peter (Saint Peter) worked as fishermen before receiving a call from Jesus to become two of his 12 apostles or disciples.

The Gospel according to John cites Andrew as having been initially called as a disciple of John the Baptist before he joined Jesus.

Andrew features among many of the New Testament tales and scriptures about Jesus and his disciples as one of the most significant apostles following Jesus and embarking on missions.

Andrew’s crucifixion on an X-shaped diagonal cross is where the Saltire cross, otherwise known as Saint Andrew’s Cross, originates – with his death at the hands of the Romans occurring in Greece on the supposed date of 30 November, 60 AD.

It is thought that this symbol of Saint Andrew’s martyrdom was not fully established until the Middle Ages.

Why do we celebrate St Andrew’s Day in Scotland?

St Andrew’s Day is celebrated on 30 November each year in Scotland for several reasons, none of which are completely confirmed.

According the legend of The Voyage of St Rule, Saint Andrew’s links to Scotland were cemented by the perilous flight of St Rule (bishop of Patras, Greece) to the Scottish east coast with the relics of Saint Andrew’s bones, depositing these in Fife.

Pictish King Angus of Scotland built a monastery in St Andrews paying tribute to the Saint – who later led him to victory in battle against the Saxons after appearing to King Angus in a dream.

There are variations on this story, with some stating that King Angus was given a message by Saint Andrew that on the morning of battle he would be met with a Cross in the sky helping him to triumph over the Saxons.

Another belief is that King Angus prayed to Saint Andrew, promising him patronage in Scotland as the country's patron saint if he helped him to victory.

Either way, the story concludes with King Angus being met with a Saltire Cross in the sun’s blinding light on the morning of battle, with this instilling confidence in the Picts army as they won in battle over the Saxons.

Saint Andrew’s Saltire Cross have been ingrained in Scottish national symbolism since, but he was only properly established as Scotland’s patron saint in 1320 with the Declaration of Arbroath.

King Robert the Bruce and Scottish barons sought to appeal to the Pope John XXI for recognition of Scottish independence and right to be protected from English kings’ claims of Scottish ownership by having Saint Andrew as Scotland’s patron saint as the brother of Saint Peter, responsible for laying the foundations of the Church.

What happened to Saint Andrew’s bones?

With Saint Andrew himself widely known to have never been in Scotland – at least not alive – his remains were likely to have been buried in Patras following his death and remained there until 357 AD.

The Voyage of St Rule legend claims that St Rule fled Greece with the bones of Saint Andrew after Emperor Constantine of Constantinople ordered their removal to Constantinople and brought them to safety in Kilrymont.

But St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh, where Saint Andrew’s relics are held today, states on its website that it is more likely the case that Patras took the bones of Saint Andrew to St Augustine Diocese in Hexham, England.

From here, the bones of Saint Andrew are believed to have been brought to Scotland by Bishop Acca, who fled to Scotland for asylum with King Angus and the Picts, in 732 AD.

The Duomo di Sant'Andrea in Amalfi, Italy and Basilica of St Andrew in Patras, Greece hold other relics of the Scottish, Russian, Polish and Greek patron saint, with countries across the world celebrating him and his legend through St Andrews Societies.

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