British Billy celebrates St. Andrew's Day, Nov. 30
By British McBilly, 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 21, 2011
ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- (Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a four-part series Billy will write about the patron saints of Great Britain.)
As we near the end of another year, it is Scotland's patron saint, St. Andrew, who cheers us with his feast day on Nov. 30. The Scots are renowned around the world for their proud heritage and noble traditions. St. Andrew's Day is celebrated by Scots worldwide with fine Scottish food and ceilidhs, which are social gatherings with traditional music, dancing and storytelling. The sound of bagpipes is always guaranteed to set my furry paws tapping. I would proudly wear a kilt, but a tartan collar would probably be more appropriate.
Attending school in Britain, children learn of the four patron saints of the British Isles: St. George (England), St. David (Wales), St. Patrick (Ireland) and St. Andrew (Scotland). Each saint's day is accompanied by its own legends and traditions.
Porridge, haggis and singed sheep's head washed down with a good scotch whisky seem to be the flavours of St. Andrew's Day. Singed sheep's head appears to be a Scandinavian delicacy and was probably introduced to Scotland by the marauding Vikings. I haven't found many of my Scottish chums who have actually tried it, however. Singed sheep's head involves holding a sheep's head over a fire to burn off the wool, cutting it in half, removing the brains and then boiling it up in a pot with root vegetables such as onion, carrots, and swede for several hours to make a sort of stew which would last for several days. Tasty.
The story of St. Andrew is a complex one with different versions and interpretations. It is now impossible to know which story is closest to the truth. He is thought to have been the younger brother of Simon Peter or St. Peter, and both became apostles of Jesus Christ and worked as fishermen in Galilee.
After Christ's crucifixion, one version of the legend is that Andrew went to Greece to preach Christianity, where he was crucified for his beliefs at a place called Patras, on a cross in the form of an X. However, the X-shaped cross played little part in early legends of St. Andrew and in early versions of the tale, Andrew was nailed to an olive tree, not a cross. The diagonal shape of this cross is the basis for the Cross of St. Andrew which appears on the Scottish Flag, otherwise known as the Saltire.
One legend says that a man who later became St. Regulus carried the bones of St. Andrew to Scotland. His ship was wrecked on the Fife coast, and the spot at which the ship landed became the site of the town of St. Andrews. A cathedral was built there which was started in 1160 A.D. and took 158 years to build; the ruins can still be seen today and the town became an important site of Christian pilgrimage.
Another legend has it that two monks from the North of England went to Rome and brought back the relics of St. Andrew. One of the monks passed the relics on to the reigning king in Scotland at the time, Angus McFergus, who became king in 731 A.D.
Again there are different legends surrounding the use of the Saltire as Scotland's flag. Some people say that Angus dreamt one night that St. Andrew appeared to him and promised him a great victory. Angus was about to fight a battle with another king from the North of England, and this dream made him believe that the Scots would win. On the day of the battle, a white cross appeared in the sky and Angus was indeed victorious. This is why the flag of Scotland is sky blue with a white cross.
The other version says that Angus was walking with some friends when St. Andrew appeared to him and told him that when he marched against his enemies he would see the white cross. So Angus had banners made for his soldiers to carry to battle with the white cross on them.
It was very important in the early days of Christianity that the bones of saints, and other articles that had been closely associated with them, should be preserved. This helped people to understand that saints were real people, no matter how extraordinary their lives had been. These objects were known as relics and often the relics of the saints would be split up and parts given to different churches.
St Andrew's relics disappeared during the Reformation of the Scottish churches, when the Protestant Church came into being and broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. Now there are few relics of Andrew in Scotland. A fragment is in St. Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh.
So many of my American chums only know of St. Andrew by association with the town of St. Andrews in Fife, regarded across the world as the home of golf. Hopefully, my humble offerings will add to your appreciation of Scotland's rich history and heritage.
As many a proud Scotsman fills his glass with whisky on Nov. 30, I trust that someone will be thoughtful enough to fill my bowl with haggis on St. Andrew's night. If it was good enough for William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, it's good enough for me.