Wednesday 30 November 2016

The Adventures of Saint Andrew, Part One: Seas Red and Black

The true nobility and merits of those princes and people are very remarkable, from this one consideration (though there were no other evidence for it) that the King of Kings, the Lord Jesus Christ, after His Passion and Resurrection, honoured them as it were the first (though living in the outmost ends of the earth) with a call to His most Holy Faith: Neither would our Saviour have them confirmed in the Christian Faith by any other instrument than His own first Apostle in calling (though in rank the second or third) St Andrew, the most worthy brother of the Blessed Peter, whom He would always have to be over us, as our patron or protector. - The Declaration of Arbroath
Part of the joy of history is knowing that there is so much left unknown to discover. For all the artefacts, relics, finds, studies, and research of the ages since humanity started to wonder about those who came before, there are always new things to discover. This is, naturally, true on an individual level, as you pore over a book, browse a site, or gaze on a museum's collection for the first time.

The Scotland of today is a nation with many faiths and ideologies, but for most of its history, it was a Christian country. This continues to permeate Scotland's cultural being, from our flag, to the declaration above, to some of our greatest historical achievements. The history of Christianity is one of scholarship and superstition, peace and war, love and hate, celebration and tragedy, and few figures exemplify Scotland than our adopted patron saint.

So let me tell you the tale of Andrew of Galilee and his adventures through the ancient world...


Like most of the Apostles, Andrew's life is mysterious and poorly attested. Most of what we know is derived from the New Testament. Andrew was born in the village of Bethsaida on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Like his brother Simon Peter, he was a fisherman: the two dwelt in a house at Capernaum, where they worked until their meeting with Jesus Christ; John wrote that Andrew was first a disciple of John the Baptist. Jesus called upon the two brothers to become his disciples, and so they did. Andrew was one of the most senior of the Apostles, counted among the first four of the twelve in the three canonical gospels and the Acts, and is generally considered to be one of the closest to Jesus himself. He was present at several of the most weel-kent episodes of Jesus' life: he had a vital role in the famous Feeding of the Five Thousand, was present at the Last Supper, saw the risen Jesus and witnessed the Ascension, and bore the gifts of Pentecost.

Quite why Andrew was adopted as Scotland's patron is also somewhat of an enigma, with several traditional theories: the most popular are the appearance of the Saint before King Óengus II at the Battle of Athelstaneford, and the delivery of Andrew's relics from Constantinople to Scotland during the Voyage of St. Regulus - all events which preceded the traditional foundation of Scotland itself. It seems likely, then, that Andrew was the patron saint of Scotland from our nation's very birth. While I got most of the Biblical information on Andrew in school and church, there is a wealth of story, legend and folklore surrounding the saint.

Following the Pentecost, the Apostles were tasked to carry Jesus' teachings throughout the world - and what a journey he undertook! From the Levant to India, Egypt to Southern Africa, all the way north to the Baltic and west to, yes, possibly even to Scotland. Unfortunately, as of 2016, I cannot find an English translation of George Alexandrou's He Raised His Cross On The Ice, so we have to dig a wee bit through the aether.


Andrew's first missionary journey was through Asia Minor. First he went through Judea, preaching to the Samaritans. Then he followed the Levant to Lydda and Antioch, to Ankara and Edessa in modern Turkey. He travelled the coast round to Constantinople, on to several famous former kingdoms.

First, he arrived in the lands of the Bythinians, a "Greek" colony in a very loose sense of the word. The Bythinians were the descendents of two Thracian tribes - the Bythini and the Thyni. The Thracians were a proud and fierce people distinct from the Achaeans of Athens or Sparta, who figured in one of the more colourful episodes in St. Andrew's life - but that's for another post.


Next, he arrived in the realm of the Cappadocians, an ancient kingdom famed for their magnificent subterranean cities. The Cappadocians were ancient miracle workers of architectural feats beyond their vast underground dwellings, and the very land itself a place of wonder and mystery with its fairy chimneys, fire temples, and more.


Soon, Andrew had his first contact with a Celtic people - the Galatians. Yup, the guys Paul wrote to. Imagine a tribe of Gauls, back in the days when their bravest warriors fought naked, deciding to raid and pillage their way across thousands of miles, before settling in a climate that's decidedly warmer than their Alpine homelands: you've just imagined the Galatians. When Galatia was reduced to a Roman province, the Romans co-opted the Dying Gaul as a tragic figure that subtly reinforced the idea of Roman victory over Gallic failure, and were only now beginning to erode indigenous culture away. In Andrew's time, the Galatians retained a strong cultural identity, and would continue to do so for another two centuries, before becoming assimilated into the final, monolithic form of the Roman Empire.


Finally, Andrew came to proud Pontus, a Greco-Persian kingdom which once ruled over an empire encompassing nearly all of Anatolia and almost the entire coastline of the Black Sea - which was, at one time, even called the Pontic Sea. Pontus was a curiously bifurcated land, divided not only by the Pontic Alps, but by culture. The northern coast was Hellenic, building upon the many Greek trading colonies founded over the centuries: the interior was Persian, dominated by the Iranian aristocracy boasting descent from the Persian Empire of old. This was reflected in their religion, which featured the Greek pantheon as well as Mithras, Men, and Ahuramazda - though, of course, that changed when Rome came. Although the great king Mithradites lost his empire in the first war with Rome, he managed to repel the might of the Republic in a second. Alas for Pontus, after fifteen years of peace, war resumed - and Rome would not lose the third war.

Some traditions say Andrew then travelled beyond the boundaries of Rome into the kingdom of Armenia, caught between Rome in the West and the Parthians in the East, and to Georgia and other lands of the Caucasus, before returning to Jerusalem. And so the first missionary journey of Andrew came to a close. But there are three more to go, and they only get wilder from here - encounters with inhuman races, battles with the descendants of giants, and more, in the further adventures of St. Andrew!

Part Two: Riders Beyond the Silk Road

Part Three: In The Country of the Man-Eaters

Part Four: The Cross on the Ice

Part Five: The Outermost Ends of the Earth

Part Six: A Cave in the Realm of the Wolf-People

Part Seven: "This Day A Martyr Or A Conqueror!"

Part Eight: Martyrdom in the Land of Lost Gods

Part Nine: The Scotland Yet To Come

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