Saltire and St. Andrew's Day
The 30th November, St. Andrew’s Day in Scotland, is usually just like any other day. People go to work, children to school, and life goes on as normal.
Except today, for some Scottish people, it isn’t quite like that. There’s a group of people in the city of Glasgow (the city of my birth) who aren’t finding anything normal about the day since a serious incident happened at around 10.30 pm last night. The crashing of a police helicopter into a pub near the River Clyde could never be called normal. For the survivors of this horrific event, their St. Andrew’s Day will be one of mixed feelings. Those who have survived will rejoice that of the 100 plus patrons who were in the pub, they are alive (there are no official figures or firmed-up details yet). Some of those pulled from the wreckage, the helicopter having landed on the roof, will likely have terrible injuries – others perhaps less so. As I write, it’s good to know that the emergency services have procedures for minimising such traumatic happenings, their contingency plans having been immediately activated. Therefore, it may be a memorable St. Andrew’s Day for them of a negative sort.
St. Andrew’s Day being a Saturday this year may have meant some celebrations happened yesterday. It’s not standard or uniform across the country but some schools have a Scottish focus day during which they may learn the story of the patron saint of Scotland and they may celebrate the works of Scottish authors and poets. Being the end of the Book Week Scotland initiative, the idea of that being to encourage more people- old and young- to engage in the pleasure of reading, the chances are that at least some classes will have been discussing how the Saltire flag came to be the symbol of Scotland.
What is the Saltire, or St. Andrew’s flag, all about?
This is only one version of the tale - you’ll find other variations.
The Patron Saint of Scotland is St. Andrew. Andrew was one of the Twelve Apostles, a disciple of Jesus. Like Jesus was nailed to a cross to die so, too, was Andrew. It is said Andrew did not think himself worthy of being on the same shape of cross as Jesus, who had an upright (plus) cross. Instead, Andrew’s was a ‘multiplication sign’ cross. After his death, Andrew’s remains were buried in Greece, in Patrae.
By almost 400 AD, the Roman Emperor of the time, Constantius, declared Patrae was not a suitable place for the relics to lie and ordered the remains to be brought to his capital city of Constantinople.
(St. Andrew is the middle top figure in this stained glass window in St. Giles high Kirk, Edinburgh, Scotland http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Scottish_Saints_Window,_St._Giles_High_Kirk_Edinburgh.jpg?uselang=en-gb)
At that time, the keeper of the remains was Regulus. Regulus had a dream where an angel told him that instead of Constantinople the remains should be taken to the edge of the world, at that time known as Caledonia.
After a hazardous journey with the casket, Regulus arrived at Mukros, on the east coast of Scotland. He buried the remains there and set up a church. The English translation for Regulus is ‘rule’ and to this day there is a stone tower at St. Andrews, in Fife, called Saint Rule’s Tower. It lies next to the ruined cathedral in St. Andrews. It’s said the stone tower replaced Regulus’s original wood, mud and turf church and the bones of St. Andrew lie buried beneath it.
We then skip on to the year 761AD when the kingdom of the Picts (then only a part of what we know of as Scotland today) was battling against the Anglo-Saxons (northern England of today). The two armies were encamped near each other ready to do battle when Angus, king of the Picts, had a dream. He saw St. Andrew come towards him bearing a silver cross (saltire) which shone out white against the blue of the sky. The next day the Picts won the bloody battle and henceforth the saltire was adopted as the badge of the Picts.
Many years later, the badge of St. Andrew was adopted as the standard for the whole unified Scotland, the land of Scotland as we know it today.
In this way, the saltire cross came to represent Scotland.
Click the link below to find out more about St. Andrew
I’ve organised a Book Week Scotland event down at one of the tiny Cafés in my village. Along with an author friend, Glen, We’re hosting a Drop-In ongoing quiz today with Scottish themes. I’ll give updates on how this goes later.
Whatever you are doing, enjoy St. Andrew's Day.