St Andrew’s Day

Saint Andrew (from the Greek ανδρεία/andreia: ) was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, called the apostles. He was the brother of Simon, remembered by posterity as Saint Peter, and the Gospel of Matthew records that the two brothers were fishing in the Sea of Galilee when Jesus called them to become "fishers of men".

After Jesus' crucifixion, according to tradition and the writings of the early Church Fathers, Andrew preached the gospel far and wide from Greece and Asia Minor to Scythia along the Black Sea, and founded the church at Byzantium (now Istanbul in modern-day Turkey), seat of the spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church. He was sentenced to death by crucifixion for his faith at Patras, in Greece, under the persecution of the Roman Emperor Nero. Considering himself unfit to die in the same manner as Jesus, he requested that he be put to death on an X-shaped cross. His remains (relics) were preserved by the faithful and since that time have had a long and eventful history.

The Scottish Connection

Around 300 years after St Andrew's death, following his conversion to Christianity, the Roman Emperor Constantine ordered that the Saint's relics be moved from Patras to his new capital, Constantinople, on the site of Byzantium. One version of the story goes that it was at this time that St Rule brought some of Andrew's relics to Scotland, having been warned by an angel in a dream to take the Saint's bones to "the ends of the Earth". Others believe that St Andrew's bones were brought to Scotland by St Acca, bishop of Hexham, in the 8th century. Another legend tells of King engus of the Picts seeing St Andrew's cross formed in the clouds before a victorious battle, and adopting St Andrew and his symbol in gratitude.

Whatever the real history, what is known is that by the 11th century St Andrew's relics, including a tooth and one of his kneecaps, were being venerated by pilgrims at the site of the town of St Andrews. The Scottish people adopted St Andrew as their patron saint and his X-shaped cross (the Saltire) as their symbol. The 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, affirming Scotland's sovereignty, makes reference to St Andrew, claiming that the Scots were converted to Christianity by the first-called apostle.

History does not recall what became of the relics of St Andrew that were brought to Scotland, but it is likely that they were destroyed in a frenzy of religious fervour in the 16th century by protestant reformers, who saw the veneration of such relics as going against the teachings of the Bible. The remainder of his relics were taken from Constantinople to Amalfi in southern Italy. Since then they have remained in the possession of the Roman Catholic Church, with his head resting in St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. As well as presenting some of the relics to Patras in 1964, as a gesture of goodwill to the Greek Orthodox Church, Pope Paul VI presented a portion of St Andrew's relics to Scotland in 1969. He bestowed the relics, which reside at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh, with the words, "Saint Peter gives you his brother".

Given his prominent place in the early history of Christianity, it is no surprise that St Andrew is an important figure not just in Scotland but worldwide. As well as being patron saint of Scotland, he is the patron of Russia and Romania, where he is believed to have preached during his life, and Greece, the site of his martyrdom.

St Andrew's Day

St Andrew's Day, the 30th of November, is marked by celebrations around the globe. In the Burgundy region of France, where St Andrew is the local patron saint, many villages hold celebrations of his feast day, and his status as patron saint of fishermen means that his feast is observed in fishing villages as well. Germany and Austria have their own traditions and folklore surrounding St Andrew's Day, or as it is known to locals. Arriving as it does so near to, and some years coinciding with, the start of Advent (the first Sunday following the 26th of November), St Andrew's Day marks the opening of traditional German Christmas markets. Among his many responsibilities, St Andrew is patron saint of unmarried women, so Andreasnacht is regarded as a particularly auspicious occasion for girls and young women to perform the various folkloric rituals designed to reveal the identity of future husbands. Austrian Girls would traditionally perform the ritual, which varied locally from divining by pouring molten lead into water, to kicking a straw bed in the nude, while reciting the Andreasgebet (St Andrew's Prayer).

St Andrew's Day, however, is best known as a celebration of Scottish culture. Since 2006, it has been officially recognised as a national holiday in Scotland, with events such as celebratory dinners and ceilidhs happening around the nation, and is marked around the world by the many St Andrew's Societies from the Americas to the Far East composed of Scottish expatriates, descendents of the Scots diaspora, and others who simply have an interest in all things Scottish. The town of St Andrews celebrates its patron in style with the week-long St Andrews Festival, incorporating music, arts, dance and drama.

So wherever you are, whether you're enjoying a dram and a dance with friends at home in Scotland, sitting down for the annual dinner with the Selangor St Andrew's Society in Malaysia, or even stark naked and kicking a straw bed, you'll be sure to find a way to celebrate Scotland's national day.

Saint Andrew

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St Andrews Festival

World Wide Ceilidh

Last updated 11 Dec 2012