Saint Andrew – Scotland's Patron Saint
The national flag of Scotland is the saltire, or St. Andrew's cross – a white cross on a blue background. The cross is diagonal, in accordance with the story that St. Andrew said he was unworthy to be crucified on a cross of the same style as that used for Jesus.
Why, you may ask, did a fisherman from the Middle East wind up being celebrated in Scotland - particularly since that country has saints who made their name there, such as Columba?
St. Andrew was one of the chief apostles, one of the first chosen by Jesus – at the same time as his brother Simon, who became St. Peter and the chief apostle.
Andrew's career following the death of Jesus is mentioned in several chronicles, which, if they are all to be believed, would make him a busy man. He was said to have preached in Scythia, the steppe area to the northeast of the Black Sea; along the Dnieper to Kyiv in the Ukraine and Novgorod in Russia; in Thrace, in the area now occupied by Romania; and in Achaia, now in Greece. He is also said to have founded the See of Byzantium, which in the 4th century became Constantinople and later became one of the chief Patriarchates of the Church (and now, of course, the city is Istanbul, in Turkey). As well as being the patron saint of Scotland, he is also the patron saint of Romania, Ukraine, Russia, the patriarchate of Constantinople, and several lesser cities and places. He was said to have been martyred at Patras in Greece.
So far, no mention of Scotland.
The Middle Ages believed strongly in the power of relics – bones and other things associated with saints. The story goes that a monk of Patras, Regulus (or Rule), had a dream saying he must take some relics of Andrew "to the ends of the earth." Regulus sailed as far as he could until he was shipwrecked off the coast of Fife, where he deposited his relics at St. Andrews.
In 832, Æthelstan, King of the Anglo-Saxons and ruler of most of what is now England, attempted a conquest of Scotland – Edward I was not the first King of England to come up with that idea. Near Athelstaneford in East Lothian, he was met by a heavily outnumbered force of Scots under Óengus II. White clouds in the form of a diagonal cross were said to have formed on the morning of the battle, and Óengus vowed to make St. Andrew the patron saint of Scotland if he was granted the victory. Óengus duly won, and St. Andrew became Scotland's patron saint.
Other versions of the St. Andrew story could be less romantic. Acca, Bishop of Hexham – now in Northumberland, England – was a great collector of relics. In the 8th century, he was ejected from his see and went north to Scotland, taking his St. Andrew relics and founding St. Andrews. The Synod of Whitby in 664 had decided that the church in the British Isles would follow the Roman methodology rather than the Celtic version represented by St. Columba. This decision favored St. Andrew, and moreover, St. Andrew, as one of the original apostles, outranked any home-grown saints. The medieval mind was maybe even more keenly attuned to rank and precedence than our age.
Whatever the truth of any of these tales, St. Andrews became the ecclesiastical center of Scotland. The Scots managed to fend off the claims of The Archbishopric of York to have dominion over the church in Scotland (those darned English, again), and the independent medieval catholic church was under the primacy of the Archbishop of St. Andrews until the Reformation established the Presbyterian Church and abolished the bishops.