Its November 30th, Saint Andrew’s Day here in Scotland; Edinburgh Castle and several other monuments have been specially illuminated with blue lights to recall the Saltire for the occasion. The mist descended theatrically when I was shooting this adding a nice, spectral haze to it all.
Yes, it is the 30th of November which means it is Saint Andrew’s Night, the patron saint of my beloved Caledonia. In many ways he is an odd choice – he never visited Scotland in his lifetime. His remains were brought here – or at least his alleged remains as there was a lot of fabricated holy relics around – to Saint Andrews centuries later. He was crucified and said he was not worthy to be crucified in the manner of his Lord, so he was crucified instead on two beams crossed like an ‘X’.
But why Andrew and not someone who had a more direct influence on Scottish early history, such as Columba or Ninian? These holy men not only brought the mixed blessing of Christianity they used their influence as a tool to help this unified worship be a method for creating a single nation by allying church with the king.
No-one really knows why the Saltire, our national flag, is the way it is. The legend tells us that before a great battle between the massive Angle army from the south and a united Pictish-Scots army. Before the battle as King Hungus prayed for victory for his people. In the sky the clouds formed the shape of a Saint Andrew’s cross against a blue background. Bouyed by this the Celtic nations fought a ferocious battle and secured their freedom. The king vowed to make Andrew the patron saint of the land ever after, and so he has been. After this it is a matter of historical record that reliquaries with remains of the saints would be carried before Scots armies before battle for centuries afterwards. Today they
march behind a piper, but the idea is not so very different.
Well, that is the legend. As no bugger actually knows what really happened it is as good a tale as any, and all legends have some small truth in them after all. All nations have their creation myths, even modern ones like America have mytholigised the reasons leading up to the Revolutionary War and the events which came after, most happily ignoring the actual historical fact. If that can happen to a recent event – and we reckon time differently in this ancient land, to us 1776 is modern history – then is it any wonder the distant past from the so-called Dark Ages should be so mytholigised? It’s in the same vein as the exploits of Wallace and the Bruce, both of whcih have more historical documentation behind them than the Saltire, but which now belong as much to mythology as to history, as Vercongetrix does to the French people. Roland Barthes has a lot to say about mythologies and the space they fill in human requirements. Myth is not just tales of the Scylla, or Odin, myths invest our entire way of seeing the world. The myths of our goodness and democracy, the myth of our united land – we pick and choose all sorts every day in order to function as a community; myth really is a vital part of our being. No doubt it is one of the reasons why we are so drawn to stories, ebing yet another example of myth making. And as stories go the great cross in the sky before a desperate battle is a bloody good one.
This site has more information for anyone interested.