The National Archives of Scotland Home
A-Z Help Site search
You are in: NAS> About us> News and features>Saint Andrew
Wednesday 22 February 2017

Feature: Saint Andrew seals Scotland's independence

Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland. His image, along with the 'saltire' (or diagonal cross) associated with him, has been used for political as well as religious purposes from early medieval times until the present. According to the Gospels, Andrew was a fisherman from Galilee and the first disciple of Christ. He is believed to have been martyred by crucifixion in Patras (now part of Greece) on 30 November in the year AD 60. It is thought that his remains were removed to Constantinople about AD 357, but after Constantinople was sacked during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the relics at Constantinople were taken to the cathedral of St Andrew at Amalfi in Italy.

By this time the monastery of Kilrymont (later St Andrews) in Fife claimed to possess three fingers of the saint's right hand, a part of one of his arms, one kneecap, and one of his teeth. It is possible that these were brought to Fife (which was at that time part of the kingdom of the Picts) from the neighbouring kingdom of Northumberland. Although veneration of St Andrew was particularly strong there, having been brought to England by St Augustine, it was St Andrews that became a popular pilgrimage destination after miracles were attributed to the saint.

Seal of the Guardians of Scotland
Cast of the seal of the Guardians of Scotland (NAS reference RH17/1/17)

Another explanation for the relics became current by the 12th century. In this version the bishop of Patras (Saint Regulus) removed the relics about AD345, sailed beyond the Mediterranean and was shipwrecked at Kilrymont, where he founded a church.

Early Scottish historians, such as Walter Bower and George Buchanan, relate that Saint Andrew appeared in a vision to the Pictish king (Hungus or Angus), who was about to fight a major battle against the Saxon king (Athelstan), and promised victory to the the Picts. The grateful king welcomed Regulus and the relics and endowed the fledgling church with the lands around the bay where the saint had landed. The main problem with this story is that the kings mentioned reigned in the 8th or 9th centuries, not the 4th.

The Regulus legend was promoted by Scottish kings, nobles and churchmen from the 12th century onwards for political reasons. Scottish independence had come under threat from England since the late 11th century, and the Scottish Church was contesting a claim to primacy by the archbishop of York. Precedence and hierarchy were very important in the middle ages. By promoting the story of Saint Andrew's choice of Scotland in the 4th century, the Scots acquired a top-rank patron saint, a separate identity from England, and a date for the supposed foundation of the Scottish Church, pre-dating the conversion of England and Ireland to Christianity by several centuries.

In the Wars of Independence, fought by Scotland in the 13th and 14th centuries, the Scots used the story as part of the diplomatic battle to persuade the papacy to recognise Scotland as an independent kingdom. Pope Boniface, in a papal bull of 1299, demanded that Edward I of England end the war against Scotland, and reminded Edward how Scotland "was converted, and won to the unity of the Christian faith, by the venerable relics of the blessed Apostle Andrew, with a great outpouring of the divine power."

It should come as no surprise therefore that reference is made to St Andrew in the most famous claim to Scottish self-determination and what is probably our greatest documentary treasure: the letter of the Barons of Scotland to Pope John XXII, sent in April or May 1320, popularly known as the Declaration of Arbroath. The Declaration of Arbroath is written in Latin, but the English translation of the paragraph in question reads:

"The high qualities and deserts of these people, were they not otherwise manifest, gain glory enough from this: that the King of kings and Lord of lords, our Lord Jesus Christ, after his Passion and Resurrection, called them, even though settled in the uttermost parts of the earth, almost the first to His most holy faith. Nor would He have them confirmed in that faith by merely anyone but by the first of His Apostles - by calling, though second or third rank - the most gentle Saint Andrew, the Blessed Peter's brother, and desired him to keep them under his protection as their patron for ever."

The image of Saint Andrew thereafter came to symbolise Scotland and another 12th century legend - that the saint was crucified on a 'crux decussata' (an X-shaped cross) - provided a simpler symbol. The Scottish heraldic term for such a cross is a 'saltire', from the old French word 'saultoir', meaning a type of stirrup.
 Declaration of Arbroath
Declaration of Arbroath (NAS reference SP13/7).

Read more about the Declaration of Arbroath.

It was used on seals in Scotland from about 1180 onwards, sometimes along with the lion rampant, which was the heraldic symbol of the Scottish crown. In 1286, when Scotland was ruled by the Guardians of Scotland in the absence of a king, the saint was depicted on the Guardians' seal, used to authenticate their legal documents and communications to the rest of Europe. The seal included the inscription: "Andrea Scotis dux esto compatriotis" (Andrew be leader of the compatriot Scots). The images below show examples of two documents with the St Andrew and lion rampant seals.

Documents with seals showing St Andrew and the lion rampant

Order by Edward I for payment of 2s. a day to Master Alan de Dunfres, Chancellor of Scotland, and his clerk, 4 Jul 1292 (NAS reference RH5/55) and warrant from the Guardians to the Chamberlain of Scotland to pay Master Thomas de Carnoto, late Chancellor, a quarter's salary, 18 Aug 1291 (NAS reference RH5/101). The second of these is sealed with the lion rampant seal on the front and with the St Andrew seal on the reverse.

Details from seals showing lion rampant and St Andrew

Details from the documents mentioned above, showing the lion rampant seal (RH5/101) and St Andrew (RH5/55).

Privacy statement | Terms of use | Using our site | Contact us | Complaints procedure | Copyright | Back to top
Page last updated: Wednesday 23 November 2011

The National Records of Scotland, H.M. General Register House, 2 Princes Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3YY; tel +44 (0) 131 535 1314; email: