Tuesday, 30 November 2010

St Andrews Day

It’s not hard to miss that today is St Andrew’s Day. I thought it might be worth just having a quick look at one of the legends surrounding why we have him as our patron saint. It involves a battle so I’m not straying from the scope of the blog.

Legend has it that a king of the Picts saw a vision of St Andrew on the eve of a battle against invaders. If he won he vowed he would appoint St Andrew patron saint of Scotland. On the morning of the battle a white cloud formation above the battlefield took the form of the crux decussate, the cross St Andrew was crucified on.

Taking that as a sign the Picts were emboldened and defeated the larger enemy force and St Andrew became our patron saint.

That’s the story we all know however there are some holes in the story. The Pictish King may have been called Óengus II or Hungus or Onuist, or Angus; he may have been Irish Scots rather than Pict. The enemy may have been the Saxons or the Angles (or even Vikings). They may have been led by Æthelstan and the battle may have been near Athelstaneford in East Lothian.

Also the first reference to the white crossed clouds on a blue sky background was only written down in 1540, 700 years after the battle!

Here’s my opinion then. A saint already venerated in Scotland, St Andrew, did inspire the victory over invaders of a people who lived in a place we now call Scotland, and the victors chose to make him their patron saint. Over the years those people became the Scots we now know and took the legend and added to it, as happens with legends.

And what about St Andrew? How many Scots know who he was, where he came from, what he did, how he died and how his bones ended up in Fife?

That’s out of scope here but does it matter? Whatever the facts behind the history we’ve been left with a simple and inspiring flag to wave on national days and sporting defeats (and occasional victory).

(Text by Adam Brown)

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