Today is St Andrew’s Day, a day in which many us take a great deal of pride – including our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who has today claimed our patron saint was a champion of minorities and the oppressed.
But how did St Andrew come to be associated in Scotland, and what lessons can be learned from his life that can be applied to Scottish society today?
It’s fair to say we don’t know a great deal about St Andrew, aside from what is recorded in the Gospels. He was a Galilean fisherman, and the brother of St Peter. He appears to have been crucified by the Romans, like his brother, but on an X-shaped cross that later inspired the Saltire. His alleged remains can be found today in the italian town of Amalfi.
Inevitably, so much of what we think we know about Andrew is the stuff of myth. Legend has it that a Greek monk by the name of Regulus was ordered by God in a vision to find the relics of St Andrew and take them to “the ends of the Earth” – his journey eventually brought him to Fife the the site of the modern town of St Andrews. The legends also tell of how a Pictish king saw a vision of Andrew before a battle with the Northumbrians at Athelstaneford in the Lothians – before the battle, an X-shaped cross appeared in the sky to assure the Picts of victory.
Few would take such stories seriously today, but they were influential in helping shape the character of the Scottish nation in times past. St Andrew was first recognised as the official patron saint at the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath – a defining poiint in our country’s history. The presence of some of his alleged relics in Scotland ensured that St Andrew’s was a popular pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages – at least until the Reformation.
St Andrew is the patron saint of Russia, Greece, Romania and, rather oddly, Barbados. He is also the patron saint of singers, sore throats, fishmongers and women wishing to conceive.
But it is in the pages of the Bible that we see a possible glimpse of his character and personality. Matthew 4:18-20 shows a willingness to immediately follow Christ, while in John 1:35-41 he appears to be a disciple of John the Baptist who recognised the dibvinity of Christ and brought his brother to meet him. While the two stories seem incompatible on some levels, Andrew is depicted in both as someone who recognised the good in others, and responds positively to it.
In spite of being a shadowy figure, he escapes some of the harsh judgements the gospel writers make of the other disciples, and he is presented as not possessing the rash character and arrogance of his brother – instead being interested in and drawn to others.
The First Minister has today issued a statement prasing St Andrew as someone who stood up for minorities and championed the oppressed. Certainly – although it is virutally impossible to know the historical St Andrew – he is presented as having been drawn to those qualities in Jesus. Whatever the truth, Ms Sturgeon certainly finds herself able to identify the kind of Scotland she wants to create with the qualities and values many associate with our patron saint.
She said: “St Andrew, who is renowned as the “fisher of men’, is a perfect embodiment of the warm welcome and kindness which we extend to all who come to Scotland.
“St Andrew spoke up for the less privileged. He was responsible for drawing attention to the existence of the loaves and fishes which eventually fed the 5,000. He championed the minority and saw that they were included.
“At this time, when the world is touched by terror and people are fleeing their homeland in search of peace, Scotland can draw from its patron saint and continues to be a place of safe haven.
“We are a nation which has welcomed and will continue to welcome many people from across the world over the years. From China to Poland, from Syria to India, people have brought their cultures and traditions to this country. Our communities have benefited and so has the richness of our lives, making Scotland the thriving country it is today.
“Let’s use today, our national day, to reinforce that warm welcome.”