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St Andrew - Patron Saint of Women?

 

Mystery of Andrew, our Forgotten Saint

 

Alastair McIntosh

 

Published on commission by the Scottish Daily Mail, 26 November 2001, p. 10. Originally submitted under the title: Saint Andrew – Patron Saint of a Woman’s Right to Say “No”. The research in this article is based on an academic paper that I published in 2000 in Theology in Scotland, University of St Andrews Faculty of Divinity -  click here to read.

 

 

His cross on our national flag is proudly borne and waved by Scots the world over. But we could be forgiven for thinking that St Andrew is one of Christendom's least interesting patron saints.

 

His Bibliography is, to say the least, sparse.

 

According to the gospels, Andrew started off as a follower of that splendidly anti-establishment figure, John the Baptist - a “voice crying out in the wilderness” – who urged that whoever had two coats must share with anyone with none.

 

Well, given that John wore a camel hair shirt and dined on locusts and honey, it hardly seems like a best-selling launch for Christian socialism.

 

But Andrew’s greatest moment comes when Jesus passes by as he’s out with his boat on the Sea of Galilee. “Follow me,” Christ says, “and I will make you fishers of men.”

 

According to John’s gospel, it was Andrew who first recognised who Jesus really was. It made him the “first-called” to Christ.

 

“We have found the Messiah,” he proclaimed, and Jesus famously responded, “What seek ye?”

 

For the rest of his Biblical career, Andrew seems to have been but a minor player.

 

He informs Jesus of the lad with the expandable lunch at the feeding of the five thousand. And he serves in a modest ambassadorial role by helping visiting Greeks – who as non-Jews would have been considered “pagans” – to have an audience with Jesus.

 

So how do we account for Andrew’s immense popularity? What made our Dark Age and Medieval forebears rank him as one of the greatest – the patron saint of Greece, Russia and Scotland?

 

As St Andrew’s Day approaches this Friday, the clue to the mystery actually rests in the Saltire – Scotland’s national flag.

 

This “decussate” or X-shaped cross goes back much further than the Battle of Athelstaneford in AD 735, when beleaguered Picts, surrounded by the English, took it as a good omen when it appeared in the sky.

 

In fact, the source of our primary symbol of national identity lies in an apocryphal text called The Acts of Andrew, probably dating originally to the late second century.

 

This text was immensely influential in Christendom around the time that Scots nationhood was emerging. But the original got lost. For a millennium it has been accessible only to scholars in fragments of ancient literary debris in Greek, Latin, Coptic, Anglo-Saxon and Armenian.

 

Recently scholars in France and America have pieced these back together. It is now easier to see what it was that our ancestors believed about Andrew. True enough, these beliefs were probably just based on stories or myths.

 

But myths can shed a lot of light on a people’s psychology and spirituality. And who knows, maybe they can still speak to us afresh today.

 

The storyline of The Acts of Andrew is a blood curdling one. It goes that after Jesus’ crucifixion, Andrew evangelises Achaea whilst his friend, Matthias, heads for Myrmidonia - the “city of the cannibals”.

 

The Myrmidonians arrest Matthias, gouge out his eyes, and imprison him for thirty days of fattening-up. But Andrew arrives and converts the miscreants, before taking off on a long evangelical pilgrimage.

 

This takes him around the Black Sea, which is how come both the Greeks and the Russians claim him as their patron saint, and finally leads him to Patras and to the family of Aegeates, the city’s Roman proconsul.

 

First Andrew converts Stratocles, the proconsul’s brother, whose name means “Battle-Praise”. This causes him to lay down his arms and became a pacifist.

 

Clearly, medieval Scots forgot that bit when they used “Saint Andrew” as their battle cry!

 

But what really irks Aegeates is when his wife, Maximilla, also converts. Worse still, she goes on sex strike! She became celibate, because Andrew told her that she didn’t have to accept her husband’s rooster-like advances each night when he came home drunk.

 

Accordingly, she tells her hapless husband, “I am in love, and the object of my love is not of this world…. Let me have intercourse and take my rest with it alone.”

 

She meant, of course, Christ; not Andrew.

 

Next, the jealous and frustrated Aegeates arrests Andrew. He accuses him, saying: “She now rejoices in you and your God!”.

 

According to the ancient manuscripts, Ageates “commanded that Andrew be flogged with seven whips. Then he sent him off to be crucified and commanded the executioners not to impale him with nails but to stretch him out tied up with ropes, and to leave his knees uncut, supposing that by so doing he would punish Andrew even more cruelly.”

 

This, then, is the origin of the idea that Andrew died on a saltire at Patras. Scotland’s first clearly established use of the Saltire is on the Great Seal of the Guardians of Scotland of 1286. It carries the motto, “Andrew, be leader of your compatriots, the Scots.”

 

It seems probable that ancient myths linking the Scots to the Black Sea tribes of Scythia made Andrew a natural choice to be our patron saint. The Declaration of Arbroath of 1320 hints as much. It mentions origins in Greater Scythia, and claims that Chirst called the Scots, “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 … the most gentle Saint Andrew.”

 

Well, there is a movie waiting to be made about all this, and it is Andrew’s last days on death row, visited by the tearful Maximilla, that clinches the tear-jerker of a script.

 

Through the jailhouse bars she takes his hands, holds them to her eyes, and tenderly kisses them.

 

Then Andrew, the gentle man whose name, in Greek, means “manliness” and suggests courage, speaks in affirmation of her right to control of her own body and life. Some of his last words are: “I recognise that you are more powerful than those who presume to dominate you; more distinguished than those who cast you down to shame, than those who lead you away to captivity.”

 

And so, back to the beginning. “What seek ye?” asked Christ of Andrew. This is the central question used to help people reflect on their lives in many a spiritual retreat today. In modern translation, “What are you looking for?”

 

Andrew was a man who accepted martyrdom, because he stuck up for a woman’s right to say “no.” As such, he sets the highest standard for true manliness.

 

That is why we need his example in Scotland today. That is what the Saltire really represents. And that is why Andrew could even be seen as patron saint of, dare I say it … women’s rights.

 

[The Daily Mail subeditors added a sentence at the end, softening this, by saying: "And it's a stirring example for love and kindness - in all lands." Well, quite so! - A.I.M.]

 

 

Alastair McIntosh is a Quaker theologian and Fellow of the Centre for Human Ecology in Edinburgh.

 

 

 

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20-12-01

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