Cult, Church, City: The Cult of Andrew 

In the Wardlaw Museum, there stands a carved oak statue of a man bearing a diagonal cross. The wood is elegantly worked, with curves hollowed out to form delicate drapes of cloth, and the piece has been oriented so the grain suggests wrinkles on his tired, downcast face. The man is Saint Andrew, carrying the cross he died on. 

Image shows a wooden statue of St Andrew, he is carrying his cross under his left arm
Image source: National Museums Scotland 

Over the centuries, many people have looked at this carving, just as you are now. However, instead of standing alone behind glass in a museum, it would have stood amongst other religious objects, as part of a screen or altar display for the cult of Andrew, a system of devotion which venerated Andrew the Apostle – the first disciple to be chosen by Jesus, and Peter the Apostle’s brother. Although it may have started as a way for Christians to pay respects to one of their religion’s most important founders, the cult has meant different things for different groups of people. Over time and place, it has been a driver of economic development, a bestower of power, and a promotor of community spirit and brotherhood. 

The cult’s role as a driver of economic development can be seen here in St Andrews. During the medieval era, pilgrims flocked here to see Andrew’s relics. They came from all around Europe, meaning that they were travelling long distances and required convenient transportation, leading to fording bridges and founding ferry services so that they could cross the Firth of Forth. This travelling also took a long time, resulting in a string of inns which provided food and shelter for weary pilgrims heading to and returning from St Andrews. Once in the town itself, the pilgrims would want tokens such as pilgrim badges as proof that they had made a pilgrimage, and to absorb some of the relics’ healing powers to take back home. This encouraged a bustling market with skilled craftsmen that could produce those badges, as well as anything else a pilgrim could need. 

Towards the later half of the medieval era, the cult also brought economic development via an influx of students, who came to study theology and law before taking up positions in the church. Although the cult is much less religiously important today, its economic legacy lives on – in the last academic year alone, tuition fees for every student at the University added up to £121.9 million.  

The University also allowed the cult of Andrew to play the role of bestower of power. Medieval towns and cities in Europe founded institutes of higher education to display their wealth and importance, which in turn helped legitimise their country’s right to self-governance – how could a nation be trusted to rule itself if it couldn’t educate its own people?  

Though universities are not quite so rare these days, there are other ways in which the cult has been used by recent governments to legitimise themselves. In the 1980s, Romania’s first president, Nicolae Ceauşescu, wanted to prove that his Communist government could measure up to the old monarchy, which had ended in 1947. He did so by emphasising Romania’s history of Christianity. 

According to official church history textbooks, the ancestors of Romanians had been evangelized by Saint Andrew himself. While travelling through Dobruja in the winter, he took shelter from the elements and wild animals in a cave. Desiring water, he struck the ground with his staff, and a spring sprang forth. Its waters had healing powers, which he used to heal the local Romanians, thus converting them to Christianity.  

Ceauşescu pushed this rendition of history to support his claims that Romanians were the first people to occupy Romania. Thus, they owned the land, and had the right to rule over themselves, via a president that they elected – him. However, Ceauşescu only allowed the people to govern themselves in the way someone agrees to a request when a gun is held to their head. Eventually, in 1989, they seized the right to self-rule in its rawest form: a revolution, culminating in his execution. 

Ultimately, Ceauşescu failed to abuse the cult of Andrew to feed nationalism and instill a sense of superiority in his people. But elsewhere, the cult of Andrew has been a promotor of brotherhood with communities both local and global, while still encouraging the expression of national identity.  

The use of Saint Andrew as a symbol of national pride might be most familiar from expressions of Scottish identity – after all, he is Scotland’s patron saint, and his cross is emblazoned right across the Scottish flag. This is especially true when the proclamation of Scottish identity is an act of defiance against those who seek to quell it. For instance, the famous Scottish rebel William Wallace’s battle cry was “Saint Andrew mot us speed!”, meaning “May Saint Andrew support us!” 

This was true outside Scottish borders as well. As globalisation occurred, Scots took their culture and their cult with them, establishing societies in the name of Saint Andrew wherever they went, like in my home country of Hong Kong. But rather than using these organisations to insulate themselves from the international community, these organisations were often charities that helped the needy. A notable example is the St Andrew’s Society of the State of New York, which was founded by Scottish immigrants to the USA in 1729, making it the oldest charity in New York. 

However, Saint Andrew does not belong exclusively to Scotland and the Scottish diaspora – Ukraine and Russia also view him as a symbol of national pride and claim him as their patron saints. This stems from a legend about his travels, documented in The Tales of the Bygone Years

According to the Tales, Andrew was travelling to Kherson from Sinope (in modern-day Turkey), when he realised he was close to the Dneiper. He followed it upstream until he reached some hills, whereupon he stopped, prayed, erected a cross, and told his followers, “See ye these hills? So shall the favour of God shine upon them that on this spot a great city shall arise.”  

Eventually, a great city indeed arose: Kyiv. It was almost as if Andrew had seen the future (or rather, as if the authors of The Tales of the Bygone Years had manipulated their past to have a wondrous origin). At the time, there was no Ukraine or Russia. They were all one people – the Kievan Rus – and Kyiv was their capital city.  

Though the Kievan Rus were later fragmented into parts that would someday become the two separate countries, due to a Mongol invasion in 1240, their shared history gives Ukrainians and Russians a special brotherhood that some still acknowledge. Perhaps it can last as long as Andrew’s brotherhood with Peter, still going strong after two millennia: in 1969, Pope Paul VI received Cardinal Gordon Gray at Rome, to give him part of Andrew’s skull as a replacement for the relics that had been destroyed in St Andrews during the Reformation of 1559. Standing in St Peter’s to welcome the first Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh since the Reformation, the Pope simply said, “Peter greets his brother Andrew.”

Coming back to the museum, perhaps the expression on Andrew’s face makes a little more sense. All the roles that he and his cult have played, and continue to play, must make up a burden infinitely heavier than the cross at his side. Yet he still bears his cross; still marches on, a symbol of brotherhood and pride in one’s identity even in the face of adversity.  

Written by Patsy Ng, 2nd year student of Computing Science at the University of St Andrews and volunteer with University of St Andrews Museums.

Medieval Pilgrimage to St Andrews  

When walking down Market Street on a busy afternoon in St Andrews, a myriad of different languages can often be heard. While it may seem surprising for a small town in northeast Fife to have such a global population, in actuality, this international demographic has been central to the story of St Andrews for centuries. Today, most people are attracted to the town because of the university or golf course, however back in medieval period, visitors were drawn to the town for a different reason: that being pilgrimage.  

A pilgrimage is a journey taken to express spiritual beliefs and devotion. In the Middle Ages, it was common for both men and women to embark on pilgrimages to sites of religious importance in an effort to absolve themselves from past sins and thus ensure their entrance to heaven. From the early twelfth century onwards, the town of St. Andrews was one such holy site that pilgrims flocked to for one specific reason: to revere the relics of Saint Andrew himself.  

According to legend, the bones of Christ’s apostle, Saint Andrew, were carried to Scotland from Greece by the monk Regulus in the 350s. The far more likely story is that the relics arrived in St Andrews from northern England centuries later. While the relics only included three fingers, a kneecap, upper arm bone, and a tooth, this was enough to put the town on the map as a site for international pilgrimage as relics from Jesus’s twelve disciples were extremely rare in northern Europe in the twelfth century.  

Image of Saint Andrew whose relics transformed the town of St Andrews – Saint Andrews the Apostle Icon Creative Commons  

The arrival of Saint Andrews’ relics changed more than just the name of the town (as it was still known as Kilrymont until around 1200). In the years leading up to 1100, the number of pilgrims traveling to see the relics was so large that Queen Margaret of Scotland established a free ferry across the Firth of Forth to aid pilgrims on their journey northward. In the town itself, a hostel specifically for housing pilgrims was established at St Leonards. Pilgrimage even influenced the urban layout of the town. As the relics were housed in the Cathedral, the town’s streets were built to accommodate the circular procession of pilgrims up and down North and South Street, with Market Street providing food, trade, and entertainment for the people that came on pilgrimage.  

A map of a city

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Map of St Andrews from the early 1580s by John Geddy. While not entirely geographically accurate, the Geddy Map provides an idealized conception of the town and gives a sense of how the flow of pilgrims would have travelled to the Cathedral by progressing up South Street and down North Street.   

“S. Andre sive Andreapolis Scotiae Universitas Metropolitana.” (National Library of Scotland MS.20996) 

One such item that would have been sold by merchants to pilgrims on Market Street were pilgrim badges like the ones pictured below. These badges were produced in large quantities and often depicted Saint Andrew on his trademark diagonal cross, which is replicated on the Scottish flag. Pilgrims would buy badges to wear as souvenirs to mark the completion of their journey to St Andrews and indicate their special status as a protected traveler.  

Examples of medieval pilgrim badges. The badges included holes in the  
corners for pilgrims to sew them onto their clothing. Open Access API 

By the fifteenth century, the number of pilgrims traveling to St Andrews had greatly decreased. The popularity of St Andrews as a site for pilgrimage waned as other shrines throughout northwestern Europe were established. With its harbor, castle, cathedral, and university, by the fifteenth century St Andrews had become a bustling town that may not have been as attractive to pilgrims as a site of spiritual transformation.  

While St Andrews may no longer be known as a site for traditional pilgrimage, to this day it still attracts people from all over the world. International students, golfers, and tourists continue to flock to this northeast corner of Fife, often following the same route across the Firth of Forth that hordes of pilgrims traversed hundreds of years ago.  

Written by Cally Wuthrich, 4th year student of Art History and Management at the University of St Andrews and volunteer with University of St Andrews Museums.

Cult, Church, City

Oak figure of St Andrew, patron saint of Scotland, On loan courtesy of National Museums Scotland, ©National Museums Scotland

The cult of a saint
The power of the Church.
A city defined by them both.

Cult, Church, City: Medieval St Andrews, a new exhibition at the Wardlaw Museum, brings together medieval artefacts from St Andrews and the rest of the UK to explore the town in the Middle Ages.

Despite its size and location, St Andrews has never been a backwater. In fact during the medieval period it was quite the opposite; a bustling trading port, a centre of spiritual government, a pilgrimage site for the veneration of Scotland’s patron saint, and an ancient seat of learning. It was also visually stunning, as demonstrated by the collection of objects on display, brought together from collections across the country for the first time in 500 years.

The exhibition invites you into a mysterious world, with beliefs, priorities, worldviews and ways of living very different to those we experience today. It also invites you to walk the streets of the town and see the sites; many of the places referenced in the displays today lay in ruins, while some, such as the tolbooth that used to stand on Market Street, have gone altogether. Digital reconstructions from the medieval period, based on detailed research carried out at the University of St Andrews, show the splendour of the cathedral as it was, the long gone cloisters of St Salvator’s College and more besides.

The exhibition is the work of Professor Michael Brown and Dr Bess Rhodes, world experts in the town during this period, and is a collaborative partnership between the Museums of the University of St Andrews, the Schools of History and Computer Science, the St Andrews Institute of Medieval Studies, and the Institute of Scottish Historical Research. It is based on the book Medieval St Andrews: Church, Cult, City (2017); edited by Michael Brown, along with Professor Katie Stevenson, Vice Principal of Collections at the University of St Andrews.  The book will be available in the Wardlaw Museum Shop along with a new publication created specially for the exhibition, Voices of the Past by Bess Rhodes and Michael Brown, which delves deeper into the stories told by the objects on display.

The exhibition takes visitors through four sections, each exploring a different aspect of the town and each with their own objects to uncover. Cult investigates Saint Andrew and his devotees, who travelled from all over the British Isles and further afield to pay their respects to his relics. Church uncovers the now almost unimaginable power of the bishops and archbishops that sat in St Andrews and shows some stunning artefacts, including a brightly coloured causable, or priest’s robe, on loan from the V&A Museum in London. Burgh – defined as an autonomous region, often a town with a degree of self-governance – explores how St Andrews governed itself, and its relationship with the surrounding areas. Finally, in Reformation, uncover how the town changed as a result of the religious turmoil that marked the end of the medieval period.

John Hardyng’s Map of Scotland, on loan courtesy of the British Library, ©The British Library

Alongside the exhibition is John Hardyng’s Map of Scotland, which is on loan from the British Library with the support of the Helen Hamlyn Trust. This rare document is the first detailed map of Scotland, created by the English spy John Hardyng in the 1450s. The map was created in a failed attempt to encourage the English king to claim sovereignty over Scotland, with the ultimate intention of conquest.

Along with the exhibition comes a varied programme of in-person and online events for all ages, interests and levels of knowledge. Take a mini-pilgrimage with expert Dr Ian Bradley, explore how the town has changed on an evening walk with Dr Bess Rhodes, discuss religious division as part of our online Critical Conversations or catch John Hardyng before he takes his secrets to England in our SpyCatcher medieval escape room experience. To find out about the events on offer take a look at our website.

Cult, Church, City: Medieval St Andrews and Treasures on Tour: John Hardyng’s Map of Scotland are both on at the Wardlaw Museum until 3 July 2022. Entry is free.

Opening times: Monday to Friday, 11am – 7 pm,  Weekends, 10am – 5pm

Wardlaw Museum, 7 The Scores, St Andrews, KY16 9AR