"O Scotia! my dear, my native soil!
For whom my warmest wish to heaven is sent;
Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content"
Robbie Burns

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Did you know that up until just a few years ago that Scotland was the only nation in which its national flag
the Saltire was not flown on its National Day?

Today t
he Saltire it is the Scottish national flag to be flown by all individuals and companies in Scotland to show their national pride in being Scottish. It is also now flown on all Scottish government buildings if there is only one flag pole and if there are two then the Union Jack flag of the UK is also flown also. On UK gov't buildings in Scotland they will fly the Union Jack and only if there is another flagpole will they fly the Saltire. The only exception to rule regarding national flag etiquette was finally made in 2002 after Scottish Parliament complained to Westminster that Scotland was the only nation where its national flag was not flown on government buildings on its National Day. So now in Scotland on November 30th- St Andrew's day where there is only one flag pole on a UK building in Scotland the Union Jack gives way to the Saltire. However, the Edinburgh Castle (and all military building/forts in Scotland as elsewhere in the UK) is a unique situation as it is still a government military facility and will only fly the Union Jack, much to the anger of many Scots throughout Scotland, especially when the military has removed the use the Union Jack in their recruitment material in Scotland. A double standard?

But why the St. Andrew's flag?

Each of the member countries of the United Kingdom have their own patron saint: Wales' St David, Ireland's St Patrick and England's St George. Scotland along with a number of other countries including Russia and Greece all have embraced St Andrew as their patron saint, he who was "first called". In Scotland there are many legends surrounding how he became their patron saint.

One legend suggests that in the tenth century his relics were brought to Scotland from Constantinople mysteriously to what is now St Andrews located in the Kingdom of Fife on the Scotland's northeast coast. The relics were brought legend claims by Regulus and presented to the Pictish King Oengus mac Fergus (900's). Two surviving manuscripts neither of which are archived in Scotland (London/Paris) elude to this particular legend. However, finding this person in the historic record has eluded historians. There was an Irish monk by this name, referred to as St Rule, was with St. Columba expelled from northern Ireland in the late 500's/early 600's not 900's. There maybe some truth to this because legend also suggests that Acca, Bishop of Hexham in the 700's brought them to a Pictish King and in doing so he created a see at what is now St. Andrews. Though other legends believe he didn't deliver them to St Andrews but to a Pictish King in the region of Galloway, the southwest corner of Scotland where Scotland first experienced Christianity with the appearance of St. Ninian in the 400's. That is if Bede is to be believed and hadn't tired to put a Saxon spin on the Chirstian religious history discounting the Celtic church. Either legend allows for the early Christian church and St Andrew's relics to date the church much to a much earlier period which is all important.

However as you will see with the video below, a more traditional and accepted legend is that during a battle between the Picts and the English at Athelstaneford in what is now East Lothian, the Pict King saw a cloud in the shape of the saltire... the St Andrew's cross with its crossed bars diagonally representing the cross on which St. Andrew was martyred. He declared if they were victorious then St Andrew would become the patron saint of Scotland. And they were which explains why they chose a blue background and a white (purity) cross.

Finally one legend to explain why St Andrew was chosen ties back to the Synod of Whitby in 664 when there was a clash between the Roman Church of Northumbria and the Celtic Church of Iona as to when the proper date of Easter was, amongst other church related issues (ie the tonsure and marriage rites of the Celts which clashed with their neighbors to the south). When the Roman Church prevailed the Celtic church licked its wounds and pulled out of Lindesfarne and Northumbria heading back over the border concentrating on Scotland. And as the Roman church had revered Peter, some believe the Scots being contrary (who would have thunk) decided that Peter's brother Andrew, the first called, would have preference in Scotland.

St Andrew's day is now celebrated in Scotland on November 30th and is a bank holiday. Traditionally St Andrew's day marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Scotland, however like in the US that has been creeping further back to make a longer shopping season. It also is usually the beginning of Advent on or nearest Sunday to November 30th.

One tradition though maybe not practiced by modern misses is that just before midnight on the 29th of November young women prayed to St Andrews for a husband and would look for a sign in coming days to know if she had been heard. She might also throw a shoe at the door and if the shoe toes faced the door she would be leaving her family home within the year, supposedly through marriage. Though it is a bank holiday it is not a full "national" holiday probably because it only applies to Scotland, though the day is usually celebrated with food, dancing, bagpipes and all things Scottish.

So next time when you attend your local Highland Games or watch Tartan Army (Scottish sports fans) cheer on the Scottish national team at soccer or rugby you will know those blue painted faces with Scottish Saltires have nothing to do with Mel Gibson or Braveheart and everything to do with St. Andrew, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, who was 'first called" along with his brother St. Peter.


Sarah Hoss said...

This was very informational. Thank you so much. I had no idea that they had not flown the flag all the time. I guess I just assumed everyone did.

Love the picture on the post!

Nancy said...

Fantastic info and great videos. Thanks for the quick history lesson. I will think of this next time I see the st. Andrews flag...ah, Saltair?

Winona said...

What an extraordinary blog! I love it. I love the message and history of the flag. I just love this blog. Now, I need to check out many of the links included and dream of the Highlands. One day, one of these days, I'll visit the land of my greatest grandfathers and grandmothers on the MacGregor side. I just have to see it, smell it, touch it, hear it, and taste it. Though, I'm just not sure about Haggis . . .

Edie Ramer said...

Very informative! Love your new look. Great job!

Maeve said...

Excellent post, Jody! Thank you for explaining the history of Scotland's flag in such an interesting and easy to remember way!

Jody said...

Sarah most people think the national flag of Scotland is the one with the red Rampant Lion on the yellow background but that one is the Royal Standard and if Scotland still had their own monarchy *wish, wish* it would be their banner.
The picture under my header was thank in Perth on our last trip.

Jody said...

Thanks Nancy. Have you had your Highland Games yet?

Jody said...

You will get their eventually. I know the first time I got off the plane in Glasgow and we had to walk down the steps and across the tarmack to the building I just stood on the top and breathed in the Scottish air for the first time. Well it was like coming home. My family kids me about being the reincarnated soul of my great great grandmother who came from Scotland in 1850. And you will even try the haggis, really is just like hash if you like hash, best in the morning with eggs.

Jody said...

Thanks Edie, how is the book sale going? Getting any more reviews?

Jody said...

Thank Maeve. I love the song about the Saltire, a stroke of luck to find that.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

I love the Scottish history and this flag is crisp with its colors. We proudly fly it at our house in California next to our American flag. Great post!

Jody said...

Thanks for checking out the post. I don't have a flag pole but if I did it would be the Saltire and the Irish flag for sure and probably the Welsh Dragon as well. I just love how the Scots keep etching away at their right to their own sovereignty. I would be interesting to see if they ever get their own self rule beyond their Parliament but I would hate to see a return to the Stewarts, they were bad for Scotland the lot of them minus James IV.

Morganne said...

Beautifully done, Jody! Not only is the scholarly information presented in a clear and moving way, the videos get right to the heart of the nationalistic sense of pride so prevalent in Scots world-wide. What a great sense of place this post gives. Thoroughly enjobable and I don't know about everyone else, but I teared up!

Jody said...

I think it is because we are so close to your own Scottish heritage. I did too, think the had Capercaille and Dougie Maclean performing in this small kirk. Wow!

So when are we going to Scotland together?

Pat McDermott said...

Your blog is very inviting, Jody. I always enjoy sitting back and learning when you post on the CHRW loop, but this history lesson was a real treat. Keep up the good work!