Saint Andrew the Apostle, or simply St Andrew, was Jesus Christ’s first disciple. He preached the teachings of Jesus around the globe before being crucified in Greece on 30 November 60 AD.
St Andrew is commonly associated with Scotland: Andrew died by crucifixion on an X-shaped cross, which is now represented by the white cross of the Scottish flag. But the saint’s significance stretches far beyond Scottish shores.
People from many places all over the world hold St Andrew in the highest regard because of his teachings and endeavours. He is the patron saint of 6 countries and several cities. And yet despite featuring prominently in the Bible, relatively little is known about him.
In light of that, here are 10 facts about St Andrew’s life and legacy.
1. He was born in Israel
St Andrew was born between 5 and 10 AD in Bethsaida in Galilee, in what is now Israel. He was the son of Jonah, and his brother, Simon Peter, would later become St Peter.
Throughout his life, St Andrew travelled far and wide preaching Jesus’ teachings, and his influence endured long after his death. For this reason, many places have a personal connection with St Andrew and claim him as their patron saint.
2. He was Jesus’ first disciple
Andrew and his brother Simon Peter were the first of Jesus’ 12 disciples. Both fishermen, they are said to have immediately followed Jesus when he stated, “come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
The Byzantine Church honours Andrew with the Greek name ‘Protokletos’ which means ‘the first called’. Andrew remained one of Jesus’ closest disciples, perhaps most memorably spotting the boy with “five barley loaves and two fish” before Jesus fed the five thousand.
3. He was crucified on an x-shaped cross
Long after Jesus was crucified, Andrew continued to advance his teachings, instilling even Maximilla – the wife of Roman proconsul Aegeas who swore to stamp out Christianity – with an interest in Christian teachings.
In 60 AD, Aegeas ordered Andrew to be crucified. Believing himself to be unworthy of the same fate as Jesus, Andrew requested an x-shaped cross. This is represented by the saltires which feature prominently on flags, such as Scotland’s, that acknowledge St Andrew.
4. St Andrew is not just Scotland’s patron saint
Many different locations have felt blessed with Andrew’s presence. For that reason, he is the patron saint of many places, including 6 countries – Barbados, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Spain and Ukraine – and various cities – Amalfi, Pienza and Sarzana (Italy), Luqa (Malta), Parañaque (Philippines) and Patras (Greece).
St Andrew is also the patron saint of fishermen, singers and pregnant women and is believed to offer protection against sore throats and gout.
5. His remains were repeatedly moved
Andrew preached Jesus’ teachings far and wide. After his death, his remains were transported further and wider. Around 357 AD, Roman emperor Constantius II ordered Andrew’s remains to be moved from Patras to Constantinople (now Instanbul). In 1208, Cardinal Peter of Capua took the remains to his native Amalfi.
While another story suggests a Greek monk named Regulus brought some of Andrew’s remains to Scotland, it is more likely that the Bishop Acca of Hexham, a renowned collector of religious relics, purchased them in 732 AD.
6. St Andrews Cathedral in Fife became a pilgrimage site for the saint
The apparent presence of relics of St Andrew – a tooth, kneecap, arm and finger – in Scotland saw St Andrews Cathedral in Fife become a popular site of medieval pilgrimage. This was until the 16th century when it fell into disrepair because Catholic mass was outlawed during the Scottish reformation.
In 1870, the Archbishop of Amalfi sent a piece of St Andrew’s shoulder blade to Scotland and in 1969 Pope Paul VI gifted Cardinal Gordon Gray part of the saint’s skull. The relics are displayed at St Andrew’s altar in the Metropolitan Cathedral of St Mary in Edinburgh.
7. St Andrew inspired a Scottish tribe
Another connection between Scotland and St Andrew reportedly occurred in 832 AD when King Angus II led his army of Picts and Scots against Athelstan’s Saxons in modern-day East Lothian. Outnumbered and pessimistic, Angus prayed for help, vowing to make St Andrew patron saint of Scotland if his army was victorious.
On the morning of battle, clouds formed in a saltire shape in the sky. This perceived divine intervention inspired the Pict-Scot army who overcame their enemy and killed Athelstan. Angus is then said to have honoured his vow.
8. St Andrew is intrinsically linked to Scotland’s independence
The formalisation of St Andrew as Scotland’s patron saint followed from the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath. Written by Scottish barons to Pope John XXII who had excommunicated Robert the Bruce, the letter is both a declaration of Scotland’s independence from England and a commitment to Christ.
The letter states the belief that “the most gentle Saint Andrew” would keep Scots “under his protection as their patron for ever”. Andrew’s brother being St Peter, the leader of the Roman Catholic church, held huge sway over Pope John XXII.
9. St Andrew’s Scottish iconography predates the national flag
St Andrew was commonly depicted in Scottish iconography long before the country’s national flag was created in his honour. He was featured on official seals from 1180 onwards, notably the seals of the Guardians of Scotland who ruled over the country in the absence of a king during the Scottish Wars of Independence in 1286.
Just under a century later, in 1385, the Parliament of Scotland insisted Scottish soldiers should distinguish themselves with a white saltire on a blue background. Since then, this has been Scotland’s national flag.
10. St Andrew’s Day originated in the USA
A day dedicated to St Andrew was only established in the mid-18th century, and surprisingly it was neither instigated in Scotland nor any other place who claimed St Andrew as their patron saint.
In 1729, a group of wealthy Scottish ex-pats set up the St Andrew’s Society of Charleston in South Carolina, USA, and celebrated St Andrew’s Day on 30 November, the anniversary of his crucifixion. The St Andrew’s Society of the State of New York then helped popularise the day from 1756 onwards.