National Shrine of Saint Andrew

Life and death of St Andrew


Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee when ‘…he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men’. At once they left the nets and followed him’ (Matt. 4:18-21). 

In John’s Gospel we learn that John the Baptist ‘when he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!"’ (John 1:36). .. ‘Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him "We have found the Messiah" (that is the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.’ (John 1 40-42).

This is how we are introduced to Andrew, who was a follower of John the Baptist and who became known as the ‘First called’. As an Apostle, Andrew played a significant role in Christ’s ministry. All twelve Apostles were given authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness while preaching. 

Andrew was present during the Last Supper and in the garden at Gethsemane; he saw the risen Christ after the Resurrection, and received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

According to tradition, Andrew left the Holy Land after Pentecost to spread the Word in Greece and Asia Minor. In 60AD, during the reign of Nero, he was working in Patras, where he baptised the wife and brother of the Governor, Aegeus. The Governor was so incensed by this, he ordered the death of the Apostle. Andrew was crucified on a cross in the shape of an X on 30 November.

This day is recognised around the world as his feast day, and was a Holyday of Obligation in Scotland until 1918. The instrument of his martyrdom – the X shaped cross – has become the symbol of Andrew and appears on the Scottish national flag (the Saltire), as a reminder that he is patron saint of Scotland.

The Relics of Saint Andrew

Relics of St Andrew

Relics of St Andrew

The bones of the martyred Saint were buried in Patras and remained there until 357 AD, when most were removed to Constantinople at the command of the emperor Constantine. From this time devotion to St Andrew spread throughout the western Church. In the eastern Church St Andrew also gained a devoted following, becoming the patron saint of both Greece and Russia.

In 1204, French and Venetian Crusaders sacked Constantinople. The French removed many relics (including the Shroud), to Western Europe. To protect the relics of the Apostle, Cardinal Peter of Capua, the Papal Legate to the East, brought the body of St Andrew to his home town, Amalfi, in southern Italy. 

Since 1846 the relics in Amalfi Cathedral have produced a mysterious and miraculous oil, called manna, every year on days specifically associated with the saint – 28 January and 30 November. 

The Scottish Shrine to St Andrew

Ruins of St Andrew's Cathedral

Ruins of St Andrew's Cathedral

Legend has it that relics of St Andrew were brought to Scotland by St Rule from Patras. What probably happened was that the relics were brought from Rome by St Augustine in 597AD as part of his great mission to bring the Word to the Anglo-Saxons. In 732 they were brought from Hexham to Fife by Bishop Acca, who was seeking asylum with the Pictish King Oengus (Angus). The relics were held at Kilrymont, which was later renamed St Andrews. From this time, the remains of the first-called Apostle became a major focus of European pilgrimage, second only to Compostella. Numbers coming to venerate the relics of the Saint grew quickly.

In the 11th century St Margaret, Queen of Scotland, endowed a ferry service across the river Forth and hostels, at North and South Queensferry, for pilgrims. The relics were initially housed in St Rule’s Church and eventually in the great medieval Cathedral of St Andrews. Twice a year the relics were carried in procession around the town. Masters and scholars from the colleges, Greyfriars, Blackfriars and Augustinian canons of the metropolitan church and trade guilds all participated. Cathedral and church bells rang and in the evening there were bonfires and fireworks

Through the dark ages, and medieval period of Scottish history, the Apostle played a major role in the creation and defining of the Scottish nation. It was commonly believed that the Apostle Andrew had chosen the Scottish people to care for and honour his relics. And so the patron saint, the Saltire flag, the relics and the See of St Andrew became crucial symbols of nationhood. 

On 14 June 1559 the interior of St Andrews Cathedral, including the shrine and relics, was destroyed by reformers who had accompanied John Knox to the city. 

The three centuries that followed were difficult for Catholicism in Scotland. Catholic worship was outlawed. The traditions were kept alive in a few outlying glens and islands. Catholics in cities and towns had to rely on visiting priests, trained overseas. Priests like the Jesuit martyr St John Ogilvie operated underground and were put to death if discovered.

Recreating the National Shrine

Cardinal Gray and Pope John Paul II pray at the St Andrew's Altar

Cardinal Gray and Pope John Paul II pray at the St Andrew's Altar

On the restoration of the hierarchy in Scotland in 1878, St Andrews and Edinburgh was made the Metropolitan See of Scotland. In 1879 Archbishop Strain received from the Archbishop of Amalfi a large portion of the shoulder of the Apostle Andrew. It was placed in a silver gilt shrine donated by the Marquess of Bute.

On the feast of St Andrew 1879 the relic was exposed here in the Cathedral and a pontifical High Mass was celebrated. In the evening the relic was carried round the Cathedral in a grand procession, including 72 men from three different Army regiments, a long line of schoolchildren and 60 altar boys!

The second relic was given by Pope Paul VI to the newly created Scottish Cardinal Gordon Joseph Gray, in St Peter’s Rome, in 1969, with the words ‘Peter greets his brother Andrew’. Cardinal Gray was the first Scottish Cardinal in four hundred years.

In 1982 both relics were housed in reliquaries designed by Betty Koster and cast by George Mancini and placed in the altar to the north of the High Altar. The chapel, originally dedicated to the Sacred Heart, now serves as the National Shrine of St Andrew, successor to the Shrine destroyed in 1559.

It was here that Pope John Paul II prayed with Cardinal Gray during his visit to the Cathedral in May 1982.

The Icon of St Andrew

Icon of St Andrew

Icon of St Andrew

In 2004 an icon of St Andrew was donated to the Cathedral, painted by Sister Petra Clare. The words on the scroll are the words of St Andrew to his brother Peter, "we have found the Messiah" - in Latin, Gaelic and English.

The icon hangs above St Andrew’s Altar and was blessed on the Feast of St Andrew 2004 by Cardinal Keith O’Brien at a Mass concelebrated with the diocesan clergy.

Icons are part of the artistic tradition of the eastern Church – in western churches we expect to see statues or oil paintings. Icons are considered to be part of the Liturgy in eastern rite and are venerated in the same way we venerate relics. 

In eastern tradition St Andrew is shown in green, or in red to recall his martyrdom. The gilding, which forms the background of the icon, represents the mystery of God. The red line at the top of the icon reminds us that salvation has been made possible through the spilling of the Precious Blood.

St Andrew gave Jesus all that was available and Jesus miraculously fed those five thousand people and still had something left over. It is exactly the same with your own lives. Left alone to face the difficult challenges of life today, you feel conscious of your own inadequacy and afraid of what the future may hold. I say to you this: place your lives in the hands of Jesus. He will accept you and bless you, and will make such use of your lives as will be beyond your greatest expectation!”
— Pope John Paul II on visiting Scotland in 1982, the successor of Saint Peter visiting the spiritual children of Saint Andrew