Of Great Britain’s patron saints, Scotland’s St Andrew is the only first-generation apostle. The gospel writers tell us he was a fisherman, but is there much else we can say about him?
Like Saint George, Andrew’s legacy is emphatically international. Not only is he the patron saint of Scotland, but also (out a long list) of Russia, Romania, Amalfi in Italy, Patras in Greece, and Barbados (where Saint Andrew’s Day is celebrated as the national day of independence).
In Scotland, 30 November is designated Andrew’s day because he is said to have died on that day, crucified on a Saltire-shaped cross rather than on the T-shaped cross of Jesus.
Legend has it that Saints Mirin and Relugas brought the bones of St Andrew to Scotland. (To St Andrew’s of course.) That’s an unlikely connection but, even though Andrew’s relics were certainly a European import, Scotland’s claim on him was formalised in one of the nation’s key historical documents, the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath. It argues that the Scots were a distinct people (from the English) who had long enjoyed the protection of “our patron or protector” Saint Andrew.
That protection was said to go back as far as the year 832 when the pictish King Óengus saw Andrew’s diagonal cross revealed in the sky (this in the days before criss-crossing jet trails): a portent of victory over King Athelstan’s Northumbrian army of Angles.
Andrew the traveller is said to have survived many acts of aggression – an arson attack, for example, in the city of Sinope (in modern day Turkey). Here, too, it is said that the devil incited a mob to drag him through the streets, tearing off pieces of his body and shedding his blood. But he contrived to escape and fruit trees later grew on the spot where his blood had been spilled.
He is a disciple, it seems, who not only networks but is prepared to ‘think out of the box’
We might also say that Andrew appears to have been someone who took the initiative. In the Gospel of John, it is Andrew, influenced by the preaching of John the Baptist, who introduces Simon (Peter) to Jesus.
It is also Andrew, faced with the prospect of feeding a huge and hungry crowd, who tells Jesus about a boy who has just a few loaves and fishes. Anna Briggs picks up on this in her hymn ‘The crowd has listened to your word’. She makes of Andrew a model of the Christian seeker who looks for ways to express God’s love even from the smallest opportunities:
Use us, your friends, to seek and trace
the gift that seems the smallest worth,
to shape the miracle of grace,
the love to feed a hungry earth.
St John, who thinks highly of Andrew (over and against St Peter, some would argue), appears to give Andrew a position authority amongst the disciples and it’s he who first introduces Gentiles to Jesus. He is a disciple, it seems, who not only networks but is prepared to ‘think out of the box’.
Doesn’t that make him an excellent choice for Scotland’s patron saint? And doesn’t that also make him an inspiration for AUC’s little Christian community here in Edinburgh?