St Andrew’s Appeal

St Andrew‘s appeal in Britain is one of those stories of meandering coincidences that are common in development of the veneration of saints. After all, Andrew is mainly venerated in the East. His missionary work occurred in Asia Minor where he was martyred. He is the patron saint of Greece, Russia, Sicily, Romania, Malta, Prussia, and Scotland. How Andrew became the patron saint of Scotland is one of those curious East-West connections in a time when Britain is supposedly so isolated.

Here is where only the kind of melding that can take place on Sicily comes into play. Although the church of Rome tends to play down this period in Sicilian history, the island was taken by Justinian I in 535 and remained under the rule of Byzantium until it was taken by the Arabs in the mid-ninth century. Throughout this period, Sicily turned back to its ancestral orientation toward Greece and the East, including in the church. To this day, most of the people of Sicily are genetically closest to Greeks with a veneer of each invader (including the Romans). Although Rome ruled Sicily for six centuries they never heavily settled it or tried to Romanize its Greek culture.

Anyway, Gregory the Great came from a high ranking Roman family with vast Sicilian estates. His mother Silvia may have been Sicilian. It is likely that Gregory spent much of his youth in Sicily. We know that Gregory himself is said to have founded six monasteries on Sicily and one in Rome, in his former home, dedicated to St. Andrew. His knowledge of Eastern customs from Sicily, by then under the rule of Byzantium for nearly 50 years, made Gregory the ideal representative from Rome to Constaninople before he became Pope in 590. It was from his monastery of St. Andrew that Gregory chose his former prior Augustine to send to Britain. The reluctant missionary Augustine brought with him dedication to St. Andrew and founded a church in Rochester in his honor.

Northern veneration of St Andrew can also be tied to Gregory the Great’s mission to Britain. When Paulinus of York fled from York back to Kent, he was made bishop of Rochester, seated at the Church of St. Andrew. Bishop Wilfrid of York in particular looked to St Andrew (and perhaps Paulinus of York) as a role model. I wonder if the young Wilfrid visited Rochester where the legends of Paulinus and King Edwin were kept during his year in Kent waiting to go to Rome for the first time? When Wilfrid goes to Rome the first time as a teenager he seeks out the oratory of St Andrew where he kneels before the four gospel books and prays for the skills to preach to the nations. Archdeacon Boniface of the oratory of St Andrew takes him in and teaches his Roman law. Could the “Oratory of St Andrews” have been associated with Gregory the Great’s monastery in Rome? And, could Archdeacon Boniface have taken particular interest in Wilfrid because of common interest in Gregory’s mission to Britain? I don’t know.

William Trent Foley has suggested that Wilfrid’s mediation between King Ecgfrith and Queen Æthelthryth (Audrey) was influenced by legends of St Andrew’s similar intervention between a husband and wife that led to his martyrdom. Andrew counsels the wife to maintain her desired abstinence from marital relations. There is no claim that the wife was a virgin but the similarity between Andrew’s legend and Ecgfrith, Æthelthryth, Bishop Wilfrid triangle is uncanny. Wilfrid’s imprisonment and other abuse at the hands of Ecgfrith are similar to the torture Andrew endures before his martyrdom. Makes me wonder if Wilfrid wasn’t looking for martyrdom like his mentor ‘Bishop Dalphinus’ whom he had wanted to die with according to Stephan of Ripon. Wilfrid dedicated his church at Hexham (on land given to him by Audrey) to St. Andrew. This was his second major church, after St Peter’s at Ripon. The dedication to St. Andrew on land gained after his mediation between king and queen could be seen as support for Foley’s assertion that Wilfrid is intentionally following an Andrew life script. He believes that Stephan is portraying Wilfrid’s exile as a type of martyrdom. Yet, I’m getting the sense that Stephan is particularly good at showing Wilfrid escape from martyrdom opportunities, but perhaps that will be a post for another day.

After Wilfrid’s death, Hexham is inherited by his personal priest Acca, who succeeds him as Bishop of Hexham. Acca had long studied at Wilfrid’s knee but unlike his mentor his efforts had to be restricted to the see of Hexham, a minor fraction of Wilfrid’s vast domain. Bede credited Acca with greatly expanding and enhancing the Church of St Andrew at Hexham. After 21 years as bishop, Acca did follow his mentor in being exiled. Where Acca went for the rest of his life is a mystery. There has been speculation that he went to Galloway where there was a new see forming around Whithorn, but I think Bishop Pehthelm of Whithorn was removed or died about the same time. The first action of new Archbishop Egbert of York in 735 was to place new bishops, Frithuberht and Frithuwold, at Hexham and Whithorn. The Continuer of Bede’s summary (in later editions of the History) lists Egbert’s elevation and the consecration of the two new bishops all in one entry. Bishop Frithuberht of Hexham and Archbishop Egbert both retained their sees until their deaths in 766. Chronicles date Acca’s death to about 740, so he had 9 years in exile. There has been much speculation that he went north to King Oengus of Pictland. His predecessor King Nechtan had contacted Wearmouth-Jarrow in the diocese of Hexham for help in modernizing and adopting Roman rites and customs during Acca’s tenure as Bishop of Hexham. King Oengus of Pictland founded the cult of St Andrews in Scotland. Acca would have been keenly interested in turning the Pictish kingdom away from Iona and veneration of St Columba, and may have been actively involved in King Nechtan’s consultations with Abbot Coelfrith. As the kings of Pictland continued to build and favor St. Andrews, he eventually displaced St. Columba and became patron saint of Scotland.

The last but not least piece of evidence that links Hexham to St. Andrews in Scotland is circumstantial. Since the time that St Andrew became the patron saint of Constantinople, the legends of St Andrew and Constantine the Great became associated. When Wilfrid, Acca and others went to Rome and did research on St. Andrew they likely would have come across legends of Constantine the Great. It has been observed in a variety of places that Hexham’s version of the events at Heavenfield in Bede’s History (III.2) resemble accounts of Constantine at Milvan Bridge. I have never been convinced of this as much as others, but it is certainly told with Roman/Imperial language. The Pictish foundation legend of St. Andrews in Scotland is a far stronger comparison to the Constantine legend that the Heavenfield account. King Fergus of Pictland sees the X shaped Cross of St Andrew in the sky, just as Constantine sees the cross at Milvan Bridge. Fergus promises that he will make Andrew the patron saint of his kingdom Scotland/Pictland if he is victorious in the coming battle, just as Constantine does. St Oswald certainly does not give God or a saint such a challenge! A detraction to the Pictish story is that it is preserved so late that the Constantine imagery could have come at a much later date.

Andrew’s tale in Britain is a thin, long winding story but, ultimately, it leads back to Gregory the Great and his monastery in Rome. As large as Gregory the Great may loom over early Britain, it is clear that Wilfrid looms equally large over the interest in St. Andrew (and his little brother St Peter).

For further reading:

Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People. McClure and Collins, eds. Oxford UP, 1994

William Trent Foley. (1989) “Imitatio Apostoli: St Wilfrid of York and the Andrew Script” American Benedictine Review 40(1): 13-31.

Ursula Hall. (1994) St Andrew and Scotland. St Andrew’s University Library.


7 thoughts on “St Andrew’s Appeal

  1. I have to admit that I always assumed that the Andrew/Wilfrid similarity over royal wive’s celibacy was something Eddius Stephanus added into the Life himself; I never considered it might be life imitating art! It’s impossible to rule out Wilfrid being quite that high and mighty, isn’t it? 🙂

  2. Interesting. I had assumed the unusual interest in Andrew in the Isles had to do with relic distributions. That’s my default “out” for odd devotional patterns. Like–I’m still wondering why St Matthias was such a big deal liturgically when neither the Scriptures nor the early tradition (i.e. Eusebius) talk much about him…

  3. Jonathan,

    Bede is the one who writes about Ecgfrith, Wilfrid, and Audrey the most. Stephan only refers to it indirectly. Its the fact that Bede and Stephan each produce different pieces of the puzzle that make it convincing. I don’t know about high and mighty… saints are supposed to be role models, most of us just aren’t either disciplined enough to go through the whole script or are not in the position to do so.


    I don’t know of any relics of Andrew in Anglo-Saxon England but its very possible. There are vague references to Wilfrid returning with undiscussed relics, and there is the reliquary that Queen Iurmenburg takes from him and wears as a necklace. Its possible Augustine brought some with him too since he had been prior of St. Andrews monastery. I imagine contact relics. But the point is that relics of St Andrew were not touted about as the reason for building a church or as a valued possession of a monastery.

    There is an alternative story for St Andrews in Scotland that involves relics but it is so unbelievable that its likely complete fiction of a later date.

    No idea about St Matthias… I just thought it was because he was elected to join the other 11, so he was found worthy. I suppose he is the first among the ‘elected’…

  4. The question of models for behaviour will continue to intrigue me. Lots of people seem to have consciously imitated Christ or, in the realm of the wholly human, SS Anthony or Martin; why not Andrew? But I still wonder whether someone like Wilfrid would have deliberately opted for a pattern he had read or heard about when the opportunity arose. If so, in a kind of hero-imitation way, or as deliberate statement? Because if the latter, who’s his audience? Is he seeking to sway clerical opinion? Does he just want the recognition of his peers? Or are the kings sufficiently preached to about such things that Ecgfrith or similar is supposed to recognise the parallel and think twice about his behaviour? The trouble is that our sources for such things were definitely written for clerical peer recognition, so the impact and depiction is filtered compared to its original performative valency.

    Good heavens, if I’m going to use phrases like `performative valency’ on a Saturday my students are in trouble.

    But good point about the Bede over Eddius source basis; I need to get back to my Northern originals at some point soon or else stop commenting here on the basis of decade-old memories…

  5. You ask, “who’s his audience?”

    Dare I say, God or St Andrew?

    I think Stephan also does want us to know that he ‘loved’ St Andrew and St Peter more than any other. As Bede has Wilfrid say at the Synod of Whitby, in effect, who is more important than St Peter (and his brother Andrew)? As for Wilfrid’s actions all he had to recognize was that he should support Audrey in saving herself for God at all costs. No one suggests that he put the idea in Audrey’s head; he just supported her decision. Once you cross a husband on his martial rights the rest would seem to flow rather naturally…

    I just keep a copy of Bede’s History and the Age of Bede handy. Otherwise, its mostly from memory. 🙂 Until last week, I hadn’t looked at the Foley article in years and years. Its good to glance through again. Now that I’ve pulled it out, there may be one or two more interesting things in there…

  6. Wilfrid has always struck me as a man rather concerned with worldly wealth and status. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’d dared assume a certain spiritual kinship with Andrew at least partially to reinforce, via precedent, his meddling between husband (Ecgfrith) and wife (Æthelthryth)–particularly with regard to inheritance rights. The church’s notions of how women should be able to dispose of their worldly goods (that is, feeling free to donate to the church) were pretty much at odds with the whole Germanic tradition of wealth staying in the family.

    I see it as a very useful tactic by the Roman church–a very necessary one at this stage in the very delicate conversion/power building game.

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