St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, and has been for over 1,000 years.

History of St Andrew

We don't know exactly how he came to be our patron saint, but:

  • We think he was a fisherman and one of Jesus' first Apostles.
  • He was sentenced to death by crucifixion by the Romans in Greece, but asked to be crucified on a diagonal cross as he felt he wasn't worthy to die on the same shape of cross as Jesus.
  • This diagonal cross is now used on the Scottish flag - the Saltire.
  • Records suggest Scotland adopted St Andrew as the patron saint by the year AD 1000.
  • In 1286, the Seal of the Guardians of Scotland (used to authenticate legal documents and communications) had a representation of St Andrew on his X-shaped cross.
  • In 1390, St Andrew first appeared as a national symbol on a coin of the realm, a five-shilling piece minted during the reign of Robert III.

What is the connection to Scotland?

  • Legend says that relics of the saint were brought from Patras in Greece to Kinrymont in Fife in the fourth century by St Regulus, after he was shipwrecked off the east coast.
  • The church at Kinrymont became the cathedral of St Andrews and soon became a major centre for medieval pilgrimage.
  • A different legend says that in the ninth century, the Pictish king, Angus mac Fergus, adopted St Andrew as the patron saint after seeing a Saltire appear in the sky, immediately before his victory at Athelstaneford.

The battle at Athelstaneford, East Lothian, in AD 832

  • An army of Picts and Scots under King Angus invaded the Lothians, which was still Northumbrian territory at the time.
  • It found itself surrounded by Saxons led by Athelstan.
  • Fearing defeat, King Angus led prayers and then saw a cloud formation of a white Saltire in the blue sky.
  • The king vowed that if, with Andrew's help he won, he would make him the patron saint of Scotland.
  • The Scots won and the Saltire became the flag of Scotland.

Modern times

  • These days Scotland celebrates St Andrew on 30 November, every year.
  • The day is a bank holiday with many organisations giving their staff the day off work.
  • Events happen right across the country - from free entry to historic attractions to ceilidhs, food markets and entertainment including poetry, music, art and performance.

The Saltire

  St Andrew's Day saltire waving © Wattie Cheung

This is the Saltire - a blue flag with a white diagonal cross.

  • It's believed to be the oldest flag in Europe.
  • The flag uses an azure background, known as Pantone 300.
  • Alongside the royal flag, the Lion Rampant, the Saltire can be seen flying in the crowds of international sporting events, on churches and on national and local government buildings.

Find out more about the Saltire at the National Flag Heritage Centre in Athelstaneford.