30th November one day late

A belated Happy St Andrew’s Day to you all!

St Andrew is of course the patron saint (whatever that means) of Scotland, and also of a few other places, including Russia. For most Scots, this today means a day to celebrate Scottishness, and a rather arresting blue and white saltire-cross flag.

My mother, who lived for about fifty years in St Andrews, Fife, was commissioned by the university library to write a book (“St Andrew and Scotland”) about the saint and his connection with Scotland, a land he certainly never visited in life. She then wrote another (“The Cross of St Andrew”) on the subject of his cross and images of it. Writing and researching these books, which were outside her traditional field of interest, provided her with years of pleasure and stimulation during what might otherwise have been a very difficult part of her life in widowhood.

If you learn nothing else from this post, learn that St Andrew was definitely not crucified on an X-shaped cross – this is a very late legend, possibly originating in England, from where the veneration of St Andrew spread north, and perhaps given impetus by a misinterpretation of a picture of another saint (St Vincent) being tortured on a device known as an eculeius. It was my mother, apparently, who first noticed this error, and there was a time when my siblings and I were qualified to discuss it at length.

Occasionally in the Church of Scotland of my childhood, the original St Andrew was mentioned. He’s not often singled out in the gospels, but interestingly St John tells us that he was one of the first two of John the Baptist’s disciples to follow Jesus (John 1:40) and it was he who called in his brother Simon (Peter).

This led to Andrew sometimes being given extra status as the “first-called” disciple, which was useful in the Middle Ages for the Scottish crown and church in asserting its independence of England and Canterbury; and also to the Russian Orthodox Church as against Rome.

John also gives Andrew a role in the Feeding of the Five Thousand. This is a story in all four gospels, but only John has Andrew particularly involved: “Andrew spoke up. ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’” (John 6:8). Along with John 12:20, these incidents have given Andrew a reputation as an approachable person, and one who eagerly brings people to Jesus. (In other words, a natural evangelist, and useful for sermons.)

The legends of his later life, as gathered by my mother, include exciting incidents involving cannibals, travel and a lengthy discourse on the cross on which he was about to be martyred in Greece (surely a cross of normal shape.)

My own little sermon on St Andrew and the loaves and fishes goes like this, and is in the form of a list.

Jesus and the disciples are faced with a hungry crowd and no food, and the situation is tense. They themselves are hungry, I assume. Enter helpful urchin with picnic.

Andrew could have said:

  1. Not now, I’m busy;
  2. Well, at least I’ve got a bite! Thank you!
  3. You’re a very thoughtful child, but you should keep this for yourself and your family;
  4. What a kind thought. Jesus, who’s been talking all this time, at least will have something to eat himself. The labourer earns his hire;
  5. Thank you! This will be enough for all! (Perhaps that’s what he should have said?)
  6. Thank you. It’s something at least. I’ll present it to the Lord, and see what He makes of it.

He chose f), and the rest is history. He chose to honour the boy’s costly generosity. That’s nice.

My other reason for mentioning St Andrew today is to do with what’s coming up in exactly a month. Not Christmas, but New Year, and New Year’s resolutions.

Many of you will know that I’m a big fan of these – why not take time at a specific period of the year to think of little or big changes that you could make in your life? We all know that many or most of them don’t last beyond January 20th, and the vaguer they are the less likely to last. “I will be kinder” is not going to change anything.

But my resolve some years ago to read “The Faerie Queene” has led me to read quite a few classic texts that I probably otherwise wouldn’t have ventured on. And “I will give up smoking”, or “I will seek counselling”, if supported with a sensible plan of How and When, can indeed change lives for the better.

Last year I spent rather too much time organising a complicated set of resolutions, more complicated than usual. It was pretty much a failure. This year I’m going for simplicity.

It’s been two years since my mother’s death, and all this time I’ve been meaning to get some of her writings into publishable form, and printed for family and friends, and maybe a few more people. I’ve fallen behind rather in this project. She wrote interestingly not only about St Andrew, but about her life as a professional female historian in the mid to late 20th century, Roman town planning and the Emperor Augustus, and she wrote well.

So in 2018 I need to get this out into the world.

Love from the PPI Blogger


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