Saint Andrew’s Day

By Gustave Doré, Scottish Highlands

30 November

The last day of November is noted as the Feast of Saint Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, an apostle of Jesus and brother to Saint Peter. Andrew is recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Mark as one of the fishermen who Jesus disciples, and in the gospel of John as a disciple of John the Baptist.

Following the death of Jesus, Andrew supposedly performed miracles which were documented in the apocryphal Acts of Andrew. He healed the blind and raised the dead, calms storms and defeats armies, kills an illegitimate embryo, rescues a boy from an incestuous mother by causing an earthquake, and as he is crucified he delivers a sermon for three days. Andrew’s crucifixion, apparently taking place in 60AD, was later reported to be not a Latin cross similar to Christ’s, but a crux decussata as he deemed himself unworthy of sharing a shape with Jesus. This saltire cross was an X shape, and he was bound to it rather than nailed. Relics associated with Andrew were then supposedly taken to Fife in Scotland and the town of St Andrews was founded.

First they sent in a fierce boar who went about him thrice and touched him not. The people praised God. A bull led by thirty soldiers and incited by two hunters, did not touch Andrew but tore the hunters to pieces, roared, and fell dead. ‘Christ is the true God,’ said the people. An angel was seen to descend and strengthen the apostle.

The Acts of Andrew, translated by M.R. James

In the year 832, according to a 16th century legend, Óengus II, King of the Picts, led an army of Picts and Scots which fought the Angles and King Æthelstan. Óengus II and Æthelstan lived around a century apart and Æthelstan did not invade Scotland until 934, however accuracy is not important in tales such as this. Before the battle the heavily-outnumbered Óengus II prayed to Saint Andrew for help in exchange for appointing him the patron saint of the country, at which point the clouds in the blue sky formed an X, showing Andrew’s sign, and the emboldened Scots and Picts won the battle. True to his word, Óengus II appointed Andrew as patron saint, and the Scottish flag shows a white saltire upon a blue background, as the clouds were over that battle. The sign was also later used as a hex on fireplaces to prevent witches flying down chimneys and entering homes.

It is thought that Malcolm III moved the slaughter of animals in the 11th Century from Samhain to the end of November to ensure endurance throughout the harsh Winters. During the Middle Ages the celebration of Saint Andrew came to prominence, but it was not until 2006 when the Scottish Parliament designated the day as an official bank holiday. The Feast of Saint Andrew is marked with traditional Scottish foods and music, with a week-long celebration taking place at the town of St Andrews.

Gustave Doré, Scottish Highlands
Gustave Doré, Scottish Highlands, Public Domain
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