Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

St Andrew - Patron of Scotland

My previous post concentrated on medieval English devotion to St Andrew and it seems appropriate to also note his status as patron of the Kingdom of Scots. The following is a republication of a post I wrote in 2011 about that.

Today is the feast of St Andrew the Apostle, and has been observed as such since the fourth century. Thinking about this led me to reflect on his emergence as the patron saint of Scotland, and the attendent iconography.

I have edited, adapted and in places extended the following paragraphs from the Wikipedia article on St Andrew - the whole article, and his links with other countries can be read here.

Eusebius quotes Origen as saying that Andrew preached along the Black Sea as far as the Volga, Kiev and Novgorod. In consequence he was to become a patron saint of the Ukraine, Romania and Russia. According to tradition, he founded the see of Byzantium (Constantinople) in the year 38, installing Stachys as bishop. According to Hippolytus of Rome he preached in Thrace, and his presence in Byzantium is also mentioned in the apocryphal Acts of Andrew, written in the second century. This diocese was to develop into the Patriarchate of Constantinople and Andrew is recognized as its patron saint.

By long established tradition Andrew is said to have been martyred by crucifixion at the city of Patras in Achaea on the northern coast of the Peloponnese. Early texts, such as the Acts of Andrew known to Gregory of Tours describe Andrew as being bound, not nailed, to a Latin cross of the kind on which Jesus is said to have been crucified. However a tradition developed that Andrew had been crucified on a cross of the form called Crux decussata (X-shaped cross, or "saltire"), now commonly known as a "Saint Andrew's Cross" This is supposed to have been at his own request, as he deemed himself unworthy to be crucified on the same type of cross as Jesus had been (though of course, the privilege of choosing one's own method of execution is a rare privilege, indeed), and is similar to the story of St Peter being crucified upside down at his own request or insistance, and for the same reason. The familiar iconography of his martyrdom, showing the apostle bound to an X-shaped cross, does not seem to have been standardized before the later middle ages in the view of Judith Calvert in her article "The Iconography of the St Andrew Auckland Cross" in The Art Bulletin 66.4 ( December 1984, pp.543-555) p.545,n.12. She drew this as her conclusion after re-examining the materials studied by Louis Réau in his  Iconographiede l'art chrétien III.1 (Paris 1958) p.79 and held that St Andrew's Cross appeared for the first time in the tenth century, but was not to become universal before the seventeenth century, and she was unable to find a sculptural representation of St Andrew on the saltire earlier than an early twelfth century architetural capital from Quercy. However I would comment that every eleventh century or later medieval depiction of St Andrew shows him with or on the saltire.

About the middle of the tenth century, St Andrew became the patron of Scotland. 

Several legends state that the relics of Andrew were brought under supernatural guidance from Constantinople to the site which became St Andrews in Fife. Of the two oldest surviving manuscripts one is among those collected by Jean-Baptiste Colbert and bequeathed to King Louis XIV, and now in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, and the other is in the Harleian MSS in the British Library. They state that the relics of Andrew were brought by one Regulus to the Pictish king Óengus mac Fergusa (729–761). The only historical Regulus (Riagail or Rule) - the name is preserved by the tower of the church of St Rule which adjoins the remains of the medieval cathedral in St Andrews - was an Irish monk expelled from Ireland with Saint Columba; his dates, however, are c.573 – 600. 

There are good reasons for supposing that the relics which came to St Andrews were originally in the collection of Acca, bishop of Hexham, who took them into Pictish country when he was driven from Hexham (c. 732), and founded a see, not, as according to tradition, in Galloway, but on the site of St Andrews. Given that the church at Hexham had been founded by St Wilfrid, with his strong links to Rome, and more importantly that the church there was dedicated to St Andrew, this looks a tempting interpretation. The connection made with Regulus is, therefore, due in all probability to the desire to date the foundation of the church at St Andrews to an early a date as possible. 

According to legend, in 832, King Óengus II led an army of Picts and Scots into battle against the Angles, led by Æthelstan, near modern-day Athelstaneford in East Lothian. The legend states that whilst engaged in prayer on the eve of battle, Óengus vowed that if granted victory he would make Saint Andrew the patron saint of Scotland. On the morning of battle white clouds forming an X shape in the sky were said to have appeared. Óengus and his combined force, emboldened by this apparent divine intervention, took to the field and despite being inferior in terms of numbers were victorious. Having interpreted the cloud formation as representing the crux decussata upon which Saint Andrew was crucified, Óengus honoured his pre-battle pledge and duly designated Saint Andrew as the patron of Scotland. The white saltire set against a celestial blue background is said to have been adopted as the design of the Scottish flag on the basis of this legend. However, as outlined above, there is evidence that St Andrew was venerated in Scotland before this date.

It has also been suggested that St Andrew's connection with Scotland may have been reinforced following the Synod of Whitby, of 663 when the Celtic church felt that St Columba had been "outranked" by St Peter and that Peter's brother would make a higher ranking patron. In 1320 the Declaration of Arbroath cited Scotland's conversion to Christianity by Andrew, "the first to be an Apostle".

The National Archives of Scotland website has an interesting, illustrated, piece about the use of the image of St Andrew as national patron and emblem: it can be viewed here.

St Andrew also appeared on pilgrim badges from the cathedral priory at St Andrews, examples of which have been found in excavations in the city.



There are some good pictures of the remains of what was once the largest cathedral in Scotland, and something of its history here and here. There is an introduction to the site, designed for school groups, with a reconstruction drawing from Historic Scotland here. Incidentally the cathedral priory, founded about in the early twelfth century, was colonised by canons from Nostell priory in Yorkshire, and which was close to my home town.

After the Scottish War of Independence St Andrew continued as a national symbol, as in the Trinity Altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes of circa 1478-79 depicting the saint standing behind the kneeling figures of King James III and his son and successor, James Duke of Rothesay, the future King James IV.


St Andrew with King James III and the future King James IV.
From the Trinity Panels by Hugo van der Goes
Royal Collection on loan to the National Gallery of Scotland

Photo from Englishmonarchs.orm

However a somewhat similar scene with King James IV from his Book of Hours, now in Vienna, and dating to about the time of his marriage to Queen Margaret in 1503, shows St James the Great as his sponsor or patron:


King James IV at prayer.
Queen Margaret is shown top right, and beneath are the arms of the King of Scots.


Unfortunately these two illustrations are not of the highest quality but they were the only ones available on the web - due I think to copyright reasons. However they do serve to illustrate the points under consideration.

It is to this period that one may well look for the origins of the Order of the Thistle, which I discussed in my post The Order of the Thistle last year. The inventory of King James III's goods made in 1488 includes a collar of the same design as that of the present Order, and in the miniature above the royal arms in the panel on the lower right are encircled by a collar as well as those on the altar frontal in front of the King. King James V is depicted wearing a similar collar in paintings and King Charles I wore one at his coronation at Holyrood in 1633.

I posted again about this subject last year, with a better reproduction of detail from the van der Goes painting, and a bit more about the iconography and use of the colour green by the Order of the Thistle, in St Andrew and Scotland

St Andrew Pray for us

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