Expand your U.K. IQ: Scots' favored saint
November 29, 2006
St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, and his saint’s day on Friday is the closest thing to a Scottish national day.
Andrew was one of Jesus’ disciples and was crucified on a diagonal crucifix, represented by the diagonal cross or “saltire,” which is on the Scottish national flag, below. Some of the saint’s bones were later brought to what is now the town of St. Andrews in Scotland, hence his traditional association with the country.
The word “saltire,” by the way, comes from the Latin “salire,” to jump, via a word meaning “stirrup;” the exact connection is unclear but probably has something to do with a stirrup’s triangular shape.
St. Andrew’s Day is celebrated by Scots everywhere with outbreaks of Scottishness. As well as the saltire, celebrations are likely to feature some kilts (a traditional Scottish garment for men that looks somewhat like a mid-length tartan skirt), haggis (spiced minced sheep’s offal), bagpipe music, thistles (another traditional symbol of Scotland), and English-baiting, a relic of the historic rivalry between the English and Scots.
The saltire is one of the world’s oldest national flags, having been associated with Scotland since the 12th century. The use of the thistle as a national symbol is also ancient. According to legend, it was adopted when an invading Norse army was defeated after one of its members, conducting a stealth operation at night, stepped on a thistle and cried out in pain, thus alerting the Scots to the invaders’ presence.
On the lighter side, millions of people likely are familiar with St. Andrews because of its storied history as the birthplace of golf. According to the course Web site, golf has been played at St. Andrews for nearly six centuries. Today, it often hosts the British Open.
Mark Wainwright is a freelance writer living in Cambridge.
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