Part 4 in our series of articles about the United Kingdom’s patron saints, and the hymn traditions they represent. See For all the (patron) saints.
Like Saint George, Saint Andrew’s legacy is emphatically international. Not only is he the patron saint of Scotland, but also (out a long list) of Russia, Romania, Amalfi in Italy, Patras in Greece, and Barbados where Saint Andrew’s Day is celebrated as the national day of independence. In fact 30 November is designated Andrew’s day because he is said to have died on that day, crucified on a Saltire-shaped cross rather than on the T-shaped cross of his master.
As Liz Bovil’s couthie Scots dialect song puts it:
He brought the Guid News later oan, tae Russia an’ tae Poland,
an’ Turkey, Hungary an’ Greece. An’ intae many more lands.
Finally, in Southern Greece, he preached the Truth that frees us.
They hanged him, an’ he chose a cross, that’s no’ the cross o’ Jesus.
Of Great Britain’s patron saints, Andrew is the only first-generation apostle, but with few agreed facts to his name stories of travel and miracle have filled the considerable biographical gaps.
Scotland’s own claim on him was formalised in one of the nation’s key historical documents, the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath. Appealing to Pope John XXII against the English claim that Scotland fell within the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of York, the Declaration argues that the Scots were a distinct people who had long enjoyed the protection of “our patron or protector” Saint Andrew, brother of Saint Peter.
That protection was said to go back as far as the year 832 when the pictish King Óengus saw Andrew’s diagonal cross revealed in the sky (this in the days before criss-crossing jet trails): a portent of victory over King Athelstan’s Northumbrian army of Angles. (See More in Information below.)
As with Saint Patrick (Ireland) and Saint David (Wales), it proves to be an interesting journey delving into Singing the Faith for hymns and tunes that offer the distinctive sounds of traditional Scottish music.
A place to start is the Country or culture search option on the right hand side of each StF+ page – and it is hardly a surprise to learn that a good many of the Scottish melodies in the hymn book come to us via John Bell, Graham Maule and the Iona Community’s Wild Goose Resource Group. “Ae fond kiss” graces Who would ever have believed it? (StF 290), and “Kelvingrove” (a melody with a dark past) is used not only for the popular Bell/Maule hymn Will you come and follow me? (StF 673) but also for Christopher Idle’s When you prayed beneath the trees (StF 339). Elsewhere traditional Scottish melodies pop up unexpectedly: Skye Boat Song (StF 394); the short but sublime Eriskay Love Lilt (StF 651); and Tramps and Hawkers (StF 112) – which Ireland also claims as its own. And then there is “Bunessan”, somewhat over-used but inseparable from Morning has broken (StF 136), which took its name when paired with a Gaelic Christmas hymn written by Mary Macdonald of Bunessan on the Isle of Mull.
John Bell puts the case for using “native tunes to articulate religious texts” in The folk-song of the Church.
Other tunes also speak clearly of their Scottish roots – Amazing Grace (StF 440) and Kenneth George Finlay’s Garelochside (StF 647), for example – and Singing the Faith includes two series of liturgical settings, by John Bell (the St Bride Setting, StF 788-790) and one of Scotland’s most distinguished living composers, Sir James MacMillan (St Anne’s Mass, StF 784-787, complete with “scotch snaps”).
Other Scottish writers, like John Bell, have emerged from the Iona Community – Douglas Galbraith, Leith Fisher and Kathy Galloway, but well before them came well-established hymns from Horatius Bonar, George Matheson and Scots-born James Montgomery. That more hymn writers are not familiar to us may have to do with the strong Scottish tradition (still current in some denominations, mainly in the Highlands) that nothing but scripture should be sung in church. Hence the rich tradition of Scottish metrical psalms, the most famous of which is unarguably The Lord’s my shepherd (StF 480).
Will you follow me?
So on Saint Andrew’s Day, we can evoke the sounds of our northern nation with ease. But what of the saint himself? Which hymns speak most to the man that so many have claimed as their own?
Appropriately enough for the first disciple to be called by Jesus, there is no better place to start than Will you come and follow me? (StF 673). It is a hymn that asks of us: “Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? . . . Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?” We may remember that Andrew the traveller is said to have survived many acts of aggression – an arson attack, for example, in the city of Sinope (in modern day Turkey). Here, too, it is said that the devil incited a mob to drag him through the streets, tearing off pieces of his body and shedding blood. But he contrived to escape and fruit trees later grew on the spot where his blood had been spilled. “Will you make a choice to stand your ground when the crowds are turning violent?” asks Jacqueline Jones (Have you heard God’s voice, StF 662). In Andrew’s case, the answer was surely the same as when Jesus called his name: Yes.
Other hymns of “calling and commission” challenge us to “Go to the world!” (StF 402) as Andrew did and, in Martin Leckebusch’s words, not “hide as hermits” but “spread the way of grace” (Called by Christ to be disciples, StF 660).
Andrew the initiator
We might say of Andrew that he appears to have been a natural leader, an initiator. It is the fisherman Andrew, influenced by the preaching of John the Baptist, who introduces Simon (Peter) to Jesus in the Gospel of John (John 1: 35-42). It is also Andrew, faced with the prospect of feeding a hungry crowd, who tells Jesus about the boy with loaves and fishes (John 6: 5-15). Anna Briggs picks up on this in her hymn The crowd has listened to your word (website only). She makes of Andrew a model of the Christian seeker who looks for ways to express God’s love even from the smallest opportunities. It’s a theme also found in George Herbert’s Teach me, my God and King (StF 668) and Shirley Erena Murray’s Wesley-inspired How small a spark (StF 408).
St John, who thinks highly of Andrew (over and against Peter some would argue), appears to give Andrew a position authority amongst the disciples and it’s he who first introduces Gentiles to Jesus (John 12: 20-26). He is a disciple who is prepared to “think out of the box” – allowing, we may wish to say, the possibility of fresh expressions of faith.
Again it’s John Bell who neatly puts into our mouths words that might also have been spoken by Andrew:
“Who will join my journey?
I will guide their feet.”
Listen, Lord Jesus,
let my fears be few:
walk one step before me;
I will follow you.
(Jesus Christ is waiting, StF 251)
For more about Saint Andrew, writer Michael Turnbull is one man to turn to. His book Saint Andrew: myth, legend and reality covers the saint’s life and legacy from all angles – from the complex history of Andrew’s relics to the equally tangled stories behind Scotland’s adoption of the saint’ s Saltire cross. A summary of Turnbull’s findings is archived on the BBC website.
Undiscovered Scotland also takes a clear-eyed look at the battle of Athelstaneford and the myths behind the Scottish Saltire.
In 2016 Telegraph reporters uncovered what lies behind St. Andrew’s Day traditions.