St Andrews Day – Scotland’s National Day

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The 30th of November marks St. Andrew’s Day in Scotland, a saint’s day that celebrates the life of the Nation’s patron saint, Andrew the Apostle. Despite being held in such reverie in Scotland, little is known about the life of St. Andrew, besides the following key facts: Andrew was one of Jesus’s original 12 apostles alongside his brother, Saint Peter; both Andrew and Peter worked together as fishermen in their hometown of Galilee; and that he became a missionary in Greece, where he was eventually crucified on an X-shaped cross – a symbol that would later be developed into Scotland’s current flag, the Saltire. So, given that so little is known of St. Andrew, what is it that links him to Scotland, and how did he become a Saint?

By James McKean

Who was St Andrew and how did he become a Saint?

Unlike other patron saints, there is no recorded Aramaic or Hebrew name for St. Andrew; the name Andrew itself appears to have been a common Greek name amongst the Hellenised Jews of Judea. The fact that Andrew had solely a Greek name suggests that his family were culturally open to the Hellenization of Galilea.

It is believed that St. Andrew was born sometime between the years 5AD and 10AD, in the ancient Galilean settlement of Bethsaida. According to the Bible, Andrew was the son of John – or Jonah – and the brother of fellow apostle, Simon Peter.

Andrew’s genesis story appears to differ in each of the Gospels. It is known that both Andrew and Peter made a living as fishermen in the Galilea Sea, and the story goes in both the Gospel of Mathew (Matt 4:18-22) and the Gospel of Mark (Mark 1:16-20) that Jesus observed the brothers fishing one day, and later called them over to become disciples, or, in Jesus’s words, ‘Fishers of men’.

In a recounting of this incident, which is featured in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 5:1-11), only Simon Peter is mentioned, but more of a story is made of the event: Jesus is said to have borrowed Simon Peter’s riverboat, and used it as a platform to preach the word of God to other fishermen, while catching large trawls of fish – a miracle, given that there had been no fish caught prior to the incident that day. Later in this chapter, reference is made to Simon Peter’s brother, Andrew, who, it is assumed, was present on the boat to witness Jesus’s miracle.

However, in the Gospel of John (John 1:35-42), Andrew is said to have previously been a follower of John the Baptist, who, in turn, led Andrew onto following Jesus. In this account, Andrew is said to have instantly recognised Jesus to be the Messiah and brought his brother onboard to follow as disciples.

In later gospels, Andrew is referenced as being the closest to Jesus of the original 12 apostles; that he was present at the Last Supper; and that he went to the Mount of Olives, alongside three other disciples, to hear word from Jesus with regards to signs to look for him at ‘the end of the age’.

Following the crucifixion of Jesus, Andrew is said to have become a prolific missionary, travelling as far as the likes of Kiev, before heading for Greece. Andrew’s spreading of the word of Christ upset the status quo in Greece severely, a country that, at the time, still followed the Roman Gods. After ignoring the requests of governor Aegeas to cease preaching, Andrew was sentenced to be crucified. Andrew’s crucifixion occurred in Patras (Patræ) in Achaea, in the year 60AD. Andrew was symbolically bound to an X-shaped cross – it is believed Andrew himself claimed he was too ‘unworthy’ to die on a cross similar to Jesus’s – and this particular shape later garnered the name ‘St Andrew’s Cross’. Following his death, Andrew became a martyr and a saint.

St Andrew SaintWhat links him to Scotland?

St Andrew has been Scotland’s patron saint since 1320 but has been celebrated in the country since as far back as 1000AD. There are several reasons that connect St. Andrew to Scotland. The most common of which is that during St. Andrews extensive travels, it is claimed, he stopped in Scotland, and constructed a church on the country’s east coast – in the present location of the town of St. Andrews.

Another, albeit more simple idea suggests that St. Andrews generous and affable characteristics always struck a chord with the people of Scotland – that Scottish people could identify more with Andrew more than the rest of the saints – and that he was chosen as patron saint for that reason alone.

Another possible reason for St. Andrews reverence in Scotland is that he granted the Scots a greater relationship with the Pope. Andrew’s brother, Saint Peter, started the church, so Andrew was in turn held in high regard by the Roman Church. This, it is claimed, helped the Scottish sway the Pope’s opinion in backing the nations claim for independence in the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320.

St Andrews aerialHow do Scots celebrate him?

St. Andrews day only became a regular occurrence in 1729 by, believe it or not, Scottish immigrants who were living in South Carolina. The 30th of November today consists typically of ceilidhs and large gatherings consisting of food and drink. The date is of coursed rivalled by Burns night on January 25th, which is celebrated in greater numbers.

Any other countries with St Andrew as their national Saint?

St. Andrew was of course a well-travelled missionary and preached the word of Jesus in many different countries. Because of this he is the patron saint of several countries who each have their own history with the figure, including Ukraine, Romania, Russia, Barbados, several parts of Italy, Esgueira in Portugal, Patras in Greece, and Luqa in Malta.


To everyone celebrating today – a very Happy St Andrew’s Day!

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James McKean is a 23-year-old blogger with a passion for well-written and informative articles. Having graduated from the University of Strathclyde in 2018, James has since taken on several roles, and now has a portfolio of work experience including events organisation and archival research. A Falkirk-native, James hopes to bring the best news from Stirlingshire and surrounding areas to the WIL readership. His areas of expertise include history, contemporary music, and literature.