Thursday, September 3, 2009


Scotland's Flag

It has been believed by generations of Scotsmen that the national flag, the white saltire on a blue background, the oldest flag in Europe, originated in a battle fought here in Athelstaneford in the Dark Ages between the Picts and Scots on the one side and the Angles of Northumbria on the other.

There are various versions of the tale to be found in the older Scottish historians. They are generally agreed, however, that an army of the Picts under their King Angus (or Hungus) aided by a contingent of the Scots was invading Lothian (then and for long afterwards Northumbrian territory), and found itself surrounded by an overwhelming force of the Angles under their leader Athelstan. King Angus and his host prayed earnestly for deliverance to God and the saints.

That night St. Andrew (the Patron Saint of Scotland) appeared to the king and promised him victory.

Next day. when battle was joined, the vision of a white saltire (the diagonal cross on which the Apostle had been martyred) was seen by all against the blue sky. This so encouraged the Picts and Scots and affrighted their adversaries that the former won a signal victory.

In the pursuit, so the tradition goes on, the Northumhbrian leader Athelstan was slain at the crossing of the Peffer or Cogtail Burn, the site of which is marked by Athelstaneford Mains Farm, about half a mile south-east of the village.

The probable site of the battle is at nearby Prora Farm,where there is a field called "The Bloody Field, close by the Peffer Burn, (this burn runs into Aberlady Bay, to the west, whereas the first mentioned Peffer Burn runs east to the sea).

The Saltire is also known as the Saint Andrew' s Cross.

St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland

Saint Andrew was one of Jesus's original disciples, the brother of Simon Peter and a fisherman by trade, who lived in Bethsaida in Galilee (in present-day Israel.) He was originally a follower of St.John the Baptist until he was called to follow Jesus. After Jesus's crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, Andrew travelled widely in Greece and Asia Minor, preaching as he went and making converts to the new Christian religion. Eventually he fell foul of the Roman authorities who were trying to stamp out the new religion, which refused to worship the Emperor as a god, and he was crucified on a diagonal cross in Patras in southern Greece and buried there.

300 years after his death the Emperor Constantine decided to remove the Saint's bones to Constantinople, but according to legend the monk St. Regulus was warned in a dream by an angel, who told him to remove as many bones as he could to the "ends of the earth" to keep them safe.

As far as the Greeks and Romans were concerned, Scotland was as near to the world's end as you could get, so some of his remains were taken to Scotland. St. Regulus brought the relics ashore at what is now St Andrews (some versions say he was shipwrecked there) and a chapel was built to house the bones, followed in 1160 by a cathedral. St Andrews was the religious capital of Scotland and an important place of pilgrimage.

A more plausible version of how the Saint's bones found their way to Scotland is that Acca, Bishop of Hexham, who was a renowned collector of religious relics, actually bought the bones quite legitimately and took them there in 733 AD.

Unfortunately the bones have now disappeared, probably destroyed during the Reformation when anything connected with "Catholic idolatry" was removed without trace. The site where the relics had been is now marked by a plaque in the ruins of the Cathedral in St Andrews.

Not all of St. Andrew's bones were originally sent to Scotland, the rest were stolen from Constantinople by the Crusaders in around 1204 and taken to Amalfi in Italy, from where some fragments were sent in 1879 to Scotland, and in 1969 Pope Paul VI gave some further relics to the Catholic church in Scotland during a visit there and these are now displayed in a reliquary in St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh.

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