Saint Andrew and his X-Shaped Cross

Saint Andrew whose feast we celebrate on the 30th November was the first of the Twelve Apostles to follow Christ. The Gospels give us precious information about the his life, and Tradition tells us that he travelled and evangelised many regions in the East until eventually laying down his life for Christ in Greece.

According to the Gospels, Saint Andrew was a fisherman of Galilee, and brother of Simon Peter.  He was also one of the disciples of Saint John the Baptist.  When the Precursor announced the presence of the Messiah saying: “Behold the Lamb of God” (John. 1:36), Andrew immediately began to follow Our Lord.  He then introduced his brother to Our Lord.  (John. 1:42)

From this time forth, Peter and Andrew would have been regular disciples of our Lord, but they did not yet follow him every day, for the the Gospels again show them attending to their fishing business.  One day, however, our Lord called them from their fishing nets saying: “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  (Matthew 4:19; Mark. 1:16; Luke. 5:10)  From this time forth, they never left our Lord’s side, except for their moment of weakness in the Garden of Gethsemane when all the apostle’s abandoned our Saviour.

Whenever Saint Andrew is mentioned in the Gospel, he always seems to be introducing people to Christ.  He was the apostle who introduced to Our Lord the boy with the five barley loaves, and two fish, with which the Saviour fed five thousand people. (John. 6:8)  Saint Andrew again, introduced to Christ the Greek travellers who wanted to see Him after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (John 12:22).  For this reason Saint Andrew is sometimes called the Introducer to Christ.

After Pentecost, Saint Andrew continued introducing people to Our Lord.  Tradition has it that he preached the Gospel in Colchis, and Scythia.  The Ukrainian and Russian Christians maintain that he travelled as far as Kiev. Eventually he travelled to Greece, where he would lay down his life for our Saviour near Patras, in the region of Achaia.  Most of his relics were transferred to Constantinople in the 4th Century.  Saint Jerome reports that many miracles occurred during this Translation.  Later, in A.D. 1210, they were brought to Italy by Cardinal Peter of Capua and enshrined in the Cathedral of Amalphi, where they still lie.

St Andrew – by El Greco

According to Tradition, Saint Andrew was martyred by crucifixion on an X-shaped cross.  One tradition even has it that, like his brother Saint Peter, he did not consider himself worthy to die in the same manner as His Master, and therefore specifically requested a cross of a different shape. In any case Christian art has enthusiastically adopted the tradition of portraying St. Andrew holding his cross. So eager was he to suffer for our Lord, that when Saint Andrew was led to his place of execution, upon seeing the cross prepared for him in the distance, he cried out: “Hail precious cross, that hast been consecrated by the body of my Lord, and adorned with his limbs as with rich jewels. I come to thee exulting and glad: receive me with joy into thy arms. O good cross, that hast received beauty from our Lord’s limbs; I have ardently loved thee; long have I desired and sought thee: now thou art found by me, and art made ready for my longing soul; receive me into thy arms taking me from among men, and present me to my master; that he who redeemed me on thee, may receive me by thee.” (Responsory at Matins of St. Andrew). He hung for three days, continually preaching the Gospel from his cross before dying.  The cross itself is said to have been brought to Marseille by Crusaders in the 13th Century where it long rested in the Abbey of St. Victor.  In 1979 it was returned to Patras.

Russian Badge – Order of St Andrew

Not only is the x-shaped cross, also called Saint Andrew’s cross, used to identify Saint Andrew in art, but it has been adopted as a heraldic device and features on the flags or arms of many countries and places that claim Saint Andrew’s patronage.  Perhaps the best known example in the English speaking world is the flag of Scotland with its white Saint Andrew’s cross, which influenced the form of the Union Jack, as well as many other flags throughout the British Commonwealth.  Elsewhere, the flag and arms of Luqa, a Maltese village which honours St. Andrew as its principal patron, as well as the Russian Navy Ensign also carry Saint Andrew’s cross.

Saint Andrew shows us an example of humility.  Although he was the first Apostle to follow our Lord, he did not think that he deserved the first place among the apostles.  He did not begrudge his brother the Primacy.  He did not envy Peter, James, and John their special privilege of being closer to our Lord. He simply sought to follow our Lord and to bring others to Christ.  He had learnt from St. John the Baptist the lesson of humility: “he must increase but I must decrease.” (John. 3:30)

This apostle also gives us an example of suffering for our Lord. His words upon seeing the cross prepared for him show with what ardour he desired to take up his cross and follow our Lord. Although some artists have depicted the crucifixion of Saint Andrew, he is more commonly portrayed embracing his cross. Not everyone is called to shed their blood for our Lord, as Saint Andrew and the martyrs did, but our Lord says to all of us: “take up your cross.” (Matthew 16:24) We, like Saint Andrew, should ardently embrace the cross that our Lord sends us.  Words mean little.  The example of holiness, particularly the example of “taking up our cross” will convert our neighbour and bring him to Christ.