A reflection for the Feast of St Andrew the Apostle

By Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ, 30 November 2022
Detail of a stained glass window depicting Andrew, the Apostle, by Charles Barry (1812–1852) in St. Aidan's Cathedral, Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland. Image: Wikimedia Commons


30 November is the Feast of St Andrew the Apostle

When I was very young, I thought it a mixed blessing to be named Andrew. With my brothers named John and Peter, I was pleased that St Andrew was often mentioned in the Gospels, but he always seemed to be a second-class Saint. Peter and John were part of Jesus’s closest circle of friends. Andrew was on the outside – willing, but always missing out on the top jobs.

Now I like St Andrew for precisely the same reasons. In Mark’s Gospel, he is Peter’s brother and is called to follow Jesus with Him. John’s Gospel describes him as a disciple of John the Baptist who follows Jesus and introduces Peter to him. Both Peter and Andrew are described as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Andrew is sometimes the go-to man among the Apostles. He helps out Jesus who wants to feed 5,000 people by telling him that a boy has a few fish and loaves of bread. Philip asks him to let Jesus know that some Greeks want to see him. And he is mentioned by name among gatherings of Jesus’ chosen disciples at the Last Supper and at other times.

Unlike Peter and John, Andrew disappears from the Scriptures after Pentecost. But in some of the many early Christian writings that were not admitted into the Scriptures, Andrew is a key figure, and many of the stories told about him led to his becoming a patron saint of many cities and regions. One collection of stories of his preaching the Gospel said that he preached and was executed on an X-shaped cross in Patras in Greece. The early stories of St Andrew also tell of his journeys and preaching in Thrace and Scythia, which included modern Eastern Europe and the country around the Black Sea. When those regions became Christian, St Andrew became the patron Saint of the Slavic nations, including Ukraine.

The subsequent stories about Andrew show how important the relics of the Saints have been in the life of the Catholic Church. The Church at Patras claimed to have his body. After Constantinople became the Capital of the Roman Empire, its people believed that St Andrew preached there and was its first Bishop. He became the Patron Saint of Constantinople and its Church. A later Emperor brought the relics of St Andrew from Patras to Constantinople. His skull was later repatriated to Patras. When the Muslim armies threatened Greece, the skull was sent to the Pope in Rome for safekeeping. After the Vatican Council, with its emphasis on Church Unity, Pope Paul VI returned the skull to Patras. The relics of St Andrew floated on the currents of Catholic history.

He was also made the patron Saint of many European nations, including Cyprus and Malta. In Scotland, medieval stories tell of the providential arrival of relics of the Saint, and of a ninth-century ruler who went to battle encouraged by the sight of clouds in the form of an X-shaped cross. He had St Andrew’s cross put on their battle standards. He won; the distinctive cross decorated the flower of Scotland and continues to be part of the Union Jack.

In this way, St Andrew was made part of the history of many Churches, and his story extended beyond the New Testament. Everywhere, he has remained a go-to saint.

Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ writes for Jesuit Communications and Jesuit Social Services.


Read Daily
* indicates required