Every country has a flag. A flag is just a rectangle of coloured cloth that can be held up or fixed to a pole. But these pieces of cloth, and their colours, are very important to us. The pattern and the colours are special to each country. The flag is shared by everyone in the country: it is a sign of belonging. It shows that we are not simply a group of people living in a particular part of the world, but a nation. We have a shared past and look forward to a shared future, living together in the same land. The flag is the sign of the nation.
To Americans, the flag is a reminder of their struggle for freedom in the War of Independence against Britain. To the French, their red, white and blue flag is a reminder of their revolution, when they fought for the rights of ordinary people.
Some flags are very new. Russia changed her flag only a few years ago. But then, some countries are very new. Even countries like Belgium and Italy, partners in the European Union, are less than two hundred years old. Some flags are very old. The Scottish flag is one of these. It's story goes back a long way.
The flag of Scotland is a silver cross on a blue background. The cross goes from corner to corner: this kind of cross is called a saltire. The flag of England is an upright cross, red on a white background. This is the cross of St George, patron saint of England. The saltire is known as St Andrew's Cross.
St Andrew was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ. Like Jesus, he was crucified. The Romans thought he was a dangerous man, spreading wrong ideas among the people, so they had him killed. Andrew asked to be crucified on a cross different from that of his leader, Jesus. He did not think he was good enough for the cross of Christ.
At the time St Andrew was killed, Scotland was a faraway counrty, hardly known at all to the outside world. The few travellers who had been there from Rome thought of it as a cold misty land, lived in by wild people. They called it Caledonia. Although Roman armies came into Caledonia, its people were never defeated by the Romans.
After Andrew's death, his body was taken away by his fellow Christians and buried. Because he had been an Apostle his fame was vey great, and people wanted to visit the place where he was buried. Andrew's grave was in Greece, in a place called Patrae. Then, nearly four hundred years after his death, the Emperor Constantius decided that a little place like Patrae was not suitable for keeping the remains of such a great saint as Andrew. He ordered that the bones of the saint be brought to his capital, Constantinople, the greatest city in the world at that time.
The keeper of the saint's remains was a man called Regulus who had a strange dream in which he was visited by an angel. The angel told him that the bones of Saint Andrew should be taken, not to Constantinople, but to a far away country at the edge of the world. Regulus should take them there and build a church. Regulus obeyed the angel rather than the Emperor. He travelled across Europe, with the remains of Saint Andrew kept in a chest. It was a long, difficult journey. At last he came to the east coast of Caledonia. There, at a place called Muckros, he and his companions landed and set up his church. Beneath the altar, it is said, he buried the chest containing the bones of the Apostle. As the years went by, the name of the place was changed. Regulus himself had been named as a saint, and Muckros became known as Kilrymont - the hill of the church of Regulus. Later still, the fame of the greater saint overtook that of Regulus, and the place became known as Saint Andrews. Where his little church, made of wood, mud and turf, had been, a splendid stone cathedral was built. You can still see the ancient tower called Saint Rule's Tower (Rule is English for Regulus) beside the now ruined catherdral in Saint Andrews.
It was a proud and very unusual boast for a small country on the edge of Europe to claim that it was the last resting place of one of the Twelve Apostles. Perhaps it was not surprising that the people in Scotland should feel that Saint Andrew was very close to them. In fact, at that time Scotland was not a single country but divided into four separate kingdoms. One of these kingdoms was Pictland, and in the year 761, the Picts were fighting the Anglo Saxons, who lived in the north of England (England was also divided into several kingdoms at that time). The two armies were very near each other when King Angus of the Picts had a dream. He saw Saint Andrew appear to him, bearing his saltire cross.
The battle took place on the following day, near the village in East Lothian called Athelstaneford, and the Picts won a great victory. From then on, the saltire was taken as the badge of the Picts, and they adopted Andrew as their protecting saint. Even when the Pictish kingdom ended and Scotland became a single country, the fame of Saint Andrew was such that he became the patron saint of the whole country.
That is the story. Of course it was not written down until much later, and it is not the kind of story that can be proved. But there were other saints who might have become the patron saint of Scotland, like Saint Columba, who set up the famous abbey on the island of Iona and taught Christianity to the Picts. The story of Saint Regulus and Saint Andrew must have seemed very real to the Scottish people for them to choose Andrew rather than Columba as their protector.