History of the Saltire Flag and St. Andrew by the Scottish Banner, August 2022
The St Andrew’s Cross or Saltire is Scotland’s national flag. Tradition has it that the flag, the white saltire on a
blue background, as the oldest flag in both Europe and the Commonwealth.
It originated in an East Lothian battle which took place in the year 832AD. An army of Picts under Angus mac Fergus, High King of Alba, and aided by a contingent of Scots led by Eochaidh, Kenneth mac Alpin’s grandfather, had been on a punitive raid into Lothian which was then and for long afterwards a Northumbrian territory.
The Albannach (Picts) and the Scots were being pursued by a larger force of Angles and Saxons under one Athelstan.
The Albannach/Scots forces were caught and stood to face
their pursuers in the area of Markle, near East Linton. This is
to the north of the modern village of Athelstaneford where
the Peffer, which flows into the Firth of Forth at Aberlady
forms a wide vale. The Peffer presented a major obstacle to
crossing and the two armies came together at the ford near
the present-day farm of Prora (one of the field names there is
still the Bloody Lands).
Fearing the outcome of the encounter, King Angus led
prayers for deliverance and was rewarded by seeing a cloud
formation of a white saltire, the diagonal cross on which St
Andrew had been martyred, against a blue sky. The king
vowed that if, with the saint’s help, he gained the victory,
then Andrew would thereafter be the patron saint of Scotland. The Scots did win, and the Saltire became the flag of Scotland. When Kenneth macAlpin, who may have been present with his grandfather at the battle, later united Picts and Scots and named the entity Scotland,
Andrew did indeed become the patron saint of the united realm.
Kenneth mac Alpin, King of Scots and Picts, Ard-righ Albainn, was laid to rest on Iona in 860AD.
Why St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and many other territories
by Hamish MacPherson
On November 30, there will be celebrations in Scotland and many other countries and territories who have Andrew the Apostle as their patron saint.
In an increasingly secular society the whole concept of having a patron saint may seem outmoded, but for Scotland, which has no independence day yet, Andrew’s feast day in the Christian liturgical year is seen as our
national day when we celebrate being Scottish.
So how did a humble fisherman from Galilee in modern-day Israel become a patron saint of a country which he never visited, and which was far away from his homeland?
To understand that you really do have to go back to the Bible, and particularly the four gospels which all mention Andrew, a Greek name meaning strong that was popular in many countries and languages. A good reason why Andrew makes a fine patron for Scotland is that his quest for knowledge and his daring led him to become the first apostle or disciple to be called by Jesus Christ – how fitting for a
nation of inventors.
The gospels disagree on who exactly was called first. Matthew and Mark say Simon Peter and Andrew were simultaneously called, Luke’s hazy on the subject, but the Gospel of John has no doubt that Andrew was the first
apostle. As translated in the King James Version of the Bible, John wrote: “Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; and looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, what seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou? He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias (sic), which is, being interpreted, the Christ.”
As John was himself an apostle and was there or thereabouts when this happened, his version is probably more exact. Andrew features regularly in the Gospels. For example, it was he who found the loaves and fishes with which Jesus fed the 5000, and he was nearly always present at major happenings such as the Last Supper, though his brother Simon Peter became the apostles’ leader and first Pope. There is a Gospel according to Andrew, usually known as the Acts of Andrew, but it was dismissed many centuries ago as apocryphal.
According to early chronicles of the Christian religion, Andrew was inspired to preach in Greece and as far north as Kiev, which is why Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Georgia and Russia have him as patron saint. He is widely
venerated in many other Christian countries, and among other patronages ascribed to him he is the patron saint of fishers, miners and singers.
Andrew was martyred by the Romans in their province of Achaia – now in Greece – at Patras, on an X-shapedcross which became his symbol. Christians in the city somehow managed to preserve his body in a secret grave.
That “X” shape was significant for in legend, Emperor Constantine the Great saw a vision of an X before a battle in 312 AD which he won after promising to make the empire Christian. A later emperor, Constantius II, was
determined to get all the saints’ relics that he could and that included Andrew’s bones. Legend again has it that a monk at Patras, St Regulus or Rule, was determined to preserve the relics and in a dream he was told to take
the saint’s arm, kneecap, three fingers and a tooth to the ends of the
earth – Scotland, at that time. Good story, but it’s much more likely that
relics of the saint were brought north by later missionaries such as Acca,
Bishop of Hexham around the year 732. The evidence for that is that the
town of St Andrews in Fife, formerly Kilrymont, had a church named for
the saint by 747. Then comes the most intriguing legend about Andrew. You will recall the Constantine story of a vision before battle – well the same vision was seen in the sky by King Oengus II before the Battle of
Athelstaneford in 832, and with his Picts and Scots being victorious
against the larger forces of Northumbria, Oengus ordered that the flag
of his kingdom should be a white X cross on a blue background – the
Saltire, as we know it.
The Scottish cult of St Andrew grew exponentially. Thanks largely to St Margaret and subsequent kings, St Andrews became the largest ecclesiastical centre in Scotland and a centre for pilgrimage with the long-lost shrine of our patron saint as the main attraction.
He is mentioned in the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath as the “gentle Saint Andrew” as the Scottish people’s “patron for ever” and he retains that title today.