Wednesday, 22 October 2008

The Remains of St Andrew

Legend has it that St Rule, a Greek monk, had a dream where he learned that the bones of St Andrew were to be removed from Patras - where Andrew was martyred by the Romans - to Constantinople by the Constantine the Great. Being warned by an angel to take the bones instead to 'the ends of the earth', he got in a boat, and ended up in Fife. The church of St Andrews was founded at the spot he landed. It is not known if this legend is wholly correct, or if it is an early medieval fabrication by the Scottish church in their bid to maintain independence from the aggressive English church, whose patron saint was no disciple of Christ, but a mere dragon slayer.

In high medieval times, the church would have been a major site of pilgrimage, as people came from far and wide to view the remains of one of the twelve disciples. But the remains aren't there any more - I had not given much thought to it, but assumed that since the Reformation and destruction of St Andrews Cathedral, they had disappeared.

Thus imagine my surprise, on reading Doug Johnstone's novel The Ossians recently, to discover that the bones of St Andrew lie in St Mary's Catholic Cathedral, Edinburgh! I popped in for a look last week. More handsomely decorated inside than Protestant churches, this is now the mother church for Fife and the Lothians, yet looks grey and almost apologetic from the outside, tucked away in a corner at the top of Leith Walk.

Inside, the shrine lies at the northeastern corner of the church - I walked over and looked. The modest fragments of bone - are they really of St Andrew? - are flanked by gold statuettes, and sealed within a tabernacle. Behind is a small and ancient looking piece of Byzantine art.

It is quite astonishing that the remains of Scotland's patron saint lie here, tucked away in a nook in central Edinburgh, completely unknown by the vast majority of Scotland's population.


Billy said...

Fife the ends of the earth - get away!

There is some saint (it might be father xmas) that some genetic analysis was carried out on the bone fragments. They turned out to be female. So, I doubt that these are of St Andrew - if he even existed

Dave said...

Nice detective work there. I visited St Andrews myself recently, but it never occured to me to wonder where all the relics ended up. I find the whole religious relic thing very odd. Why should I want to look at body tissue from somebody famous? It's got to be some kind of primitive belief, much older than christianity.

Billy said...

I've got 11 true jesus fingers for sale. Anyone want one?

Robert Craig said...

Dave - nearer to home, you can also visit the remains of St Valentine in the Blessed St John Duns Scotus church in the Gorbals. It makes an ideal, romantic and above all cheap date for you and your missus on Valentine's Day.

Billy - did I ever tell you that a school friend of mine found a hand on the beach? Before taking it to the police he brought it in to school - in his lunch box.