Skip to main content

Why St. Andrew?

St. Andrew is fairly well known as being the patron saint of Scotland, but the question is why? Andrew is said to have been a fisherman from a village on the Sea of Galilee. He and his brother Simon Peter were called to become “fishers of men” as disciples of Jesus and thus he spent about the first half of his life in Palestine. From there he is said to have to traveled to Scythia. The “Chronicle of Nestor” says that he preached along the Black Sea and the Dnieper river as far as Kiev, and from there he traveled to Novgorod. He founded the See of Byzantium (later Constantinople and Istanbul) in AD 38, and became a patron saint of Ukraine, Romania and Russia. So the question is why should a saint who seemingly has no connection to Scotland become it’s patron?

One story claimed that the 9th century Scottish King Oengus II was facing defeat in an upcoming battle against a larger army. St. Andrew appeared to the Oengus and told him if he fought in the name of the saint the battle would go in his favor despite the odds. About the same time a monk named Rule who had been inspired by a dream was sailing from Greece and making his way to Scotland with relics of St. Andrew. Rule just happened to arrive in Fife at the same time that the triumphant Oengus was returning home. In thanks, and celebration Oegnus dedicated a church to the saint where the monk Rule had landed -founding the modern city of St Andrews. But… this story is often seen as merely a re-working of a similar tale about the Roman Emperor Constantine who had a vision and conversion on the eve of battle.

The fact that Andrew preached in the area known as Scythia at the time may actually be the connection. Early legends in Gaelic claim that Scythia was the original home of the Gaels. For example the Book of Invasions describes the first Gaels as migrating from Asia, stopping in Egypt, Spain and finally settling in Britain and Ireland.
 In The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (circa AD 731) by the Medieval historian Bede claims that the Picts were descended from the Scythians. Even though these legends don’t seem to be true if it was commonly believed at the time, it would make sense that a saint who preached in Scythia might be adopted by a people who thought themselves to be sons and daughters of Scythians.

The “Declaration of Arbroath” seems to add some credence to this idea:
‘[The Scots] true nobility and merits have been made plain, if not by other considerations, then by the fact that… the Lord Jesus Christ… brought them, the first of all, to his holy faith, though they lived in the furthest parts of the world. And he chose that they be converted to the faith by none other than the brother of the blessed Peter, the gentle Andrew… whom he wished always to be over us as our patron.’



It is not hard to read that, in context of the legends above, as a reference to St. Andrew’s work with the Scythians -a people who lived at ‘the furthest parts of the world’ – before they set out on their voyage to Ireland and Britain.

Groomporter

Blogger for The Celtic Croft and owner of MacGregor Historic Games http://historicgames.com

Leave a Reply