St Andrew’s Day November 30th

The Saltire – flag of Scotland

Saint Andrew was the first Apostle and he introduced his brother, Simon Peter, to Jesus. Not much about his later life is known but the idea that he was martyred on a X-shaped cross, the saltire, is probably a medieval invention. Formerly, a simple fisherman and so patron of fishermen, and fishmongers. Also, the patron saint of Scotland and Russia; of singers and pregnant woman, and efficacious in offering protection against sore throats and gout. More about St. Andrew below.

His association with Russia comes from Eusebius who quotes Origen recording that Andrew preached in Scythia. The Chronicle of Nestor says he travelled to Kiev and Novgorod and so became a patron saint of Ukraine, Romania and Russia. (Wikipedia).

Scottish legends has St Andrew both visiting Scotland and some of his relics coming to Fife in the 4th Century or the 8th Century. St Rule was tasked with taking some of Andrew’s relics to the edges of the world, and he turned up in Fife with a kneecap, arm and finger bone which were kept in St Rule’s Church and which gave St Andrew’s name to the town. of St Andrews is also famous as the home of golf and the oldest University in Scotland, (founded in 1412). The relics were transferred to the Cathedral, but they were destroyed in the Reformation. In 1979 the Archbishop of Amalfi gifted a piece of Saint Andrew’s shoulder blade to St Andrews and Pope Paul VI gave further remains to Scotland in 1969

a shoulder blade reputedly belonging to Andrew was gifted to Scotland by the Archbishop of Amalfi in 1879 and Pope Paul VI presented further remains to the nation in 1969.

The Day is an official bank holiday in Scotland and is celebrated with events all over the country, including a torchlight procession in Glasgow. (https://theculturetrip.com/europe/united-kingdom/scotland/articles/what-is-st-andrews-day-and-how-do-people-celebrate-it-in-scotland/).

Celebrate with a Haggis and a Whisky!

In Kent and Sussex Andrewtide gave the right to hunt squirrels, and in Hasted’s History of Kent (1782) the day is said to allow the ‘lower kind’ to form a lawless rabble hunting any manner of hares, partridges and pheasants. (Perpetual Almanac by Charles Kightly).

St Andrew in London

On the corner of Leadenhall Street and St Mary Axe in the City of London is one of the very few medieval Churches that survived the Great Fire of London is 1666. It was sheltered by the firebreak that was the Leadenhall, a big market building made of stone.

The Church is the Maypole Church as it was here the Maypole or the shaft was stored under the eves of the Church when not in use. Hence, St Andrew’s sobriquet of ‘Undershaft’. The MayDay riot in 1517 put an end to the dancing around the Maypole but the pole itself survived until 1547 when, in a Puritan riot, the ‘stynking idol’ was destroyed. (see my May Day blog post here for more more details of Mayday.)

This is where the great London historian John Stow is buried. His Survey of London is one of the best sources for Medieval and Tudor London. Every three years, on April 5th or thereabouts, there is a commemorative service and his quill is changed. The Lord Mayor attends and it is organised by Stow’s Guild – the Merchant Taylors.

John Stow, author of the ‘Survey of London‘ first published in 1598. Available at the wonderful Project Gutenberg: ‘https://www.gutenberg.org/files/42959/42959-h/42959-h.htm’

There is also a plaque to Hans Holbein, but no one knows, for sure, where he is buried. He died in London in 1543, possibly of plague.

Agas Map 1561 showing St Andrews (right centre)

First Published on 30th November 2022, Revised and republished on 30th November 2023

May 2nd. This Stinking Idol & the End of May Day

An Imagined Scene at the Maypole at St Andrew Undershaft
An Imagined Scene at the Maypole at St Andrew Undershaft

Philip Stubbes, in his Anatomy of Abuses of 1583, fired a broadside into the tradition of dancing around the Maypole when he wrote a vitriolic attack on pagan practices. He said they had ‘as Superintendent and Lord ouer their pastimes and sportes: namely, Sathan Prince of Hell’ as they erected ‘this stinking Idoll’. Stubbes suggested that of the maids that went out to the woods on May Eve less than one-third returned ‘undefiled’.

The Maypole was stored at St Andrew Cornhill, which became known as St Andrew Undershaft. In 1517 it was attacked during the Evil May Day riot, which the Recorder of the time, Thomas More, helped quell. (300 were arrested and one hanged). The shaft was then kept under the eves of the houses in Shaft Alley but apparently banned from being raised.

But in 1549 the curate of nearby St Katharine Cree Church made an inflammatory speech which lead to a Puritan mob cutting the shaft into pieces and burning it. I always imagine the Curate’s sermons to be along the same lines as Phillip Stubbes attack on the Maypole:

But their chiefest iewel they bring from thence is the Maie-poale,
which they bring home with great veneration, as thus: They haue
twentie, or fourtie yoake of Oxen, euery Oxe hauing a sweete
Nosegaie of flowers tyed on the tip of his homes, and these Oxen
drawe home this Maie-poale (this stinking ldoll rather) which is
couered all ouer with Flowers and Hearbes, bound round about
with strings from the top to the bottome, and sometimes painted
with variable collours, with two or three hundred men, women and
children following it, with great deuotion. And thus being reared

vp, with handkerchiefes and flagges streaming on the top, they
strawe the ground round about, bind green boughes about it, set
vp Summer Haules, Bowers, and Arbours hard by it. And then fa!
they to banquet and feast, to leape and daunce about it, as the

a Heathen people did, at the dedication of their ldolles, whereof this
is a perfect patteme, or rather the thing it selfe. I haue heard it
crediblie reported (and that viua voce) by men of great grauity,
credite, and reputation, that of fourtie, threescore, or a hundred Maides,
going to the wood ouemight, there haue scarcely the third part of them returned home againe vndefiled.

Phillip Stubbes from ‘A CRITICAL EDITION OF PHILIP STUBBES’S ANATOMIE OF ABUSES‘ by MARGARET JANE KIDNIE

The Maypole in the Strand seems to have survived until the beginning of the Civil War, (1644) when it was destroyed. But at the Restoration of Charles II another huge Maypole was joyously erected 134 ft high (41 metres) there and danced around till 1713 when it was replaced. And sold to Isaac Newton who used it to support the biggest telescope in Europe which was erected in Wanstead by a friend.

And that, my friends, is how you get from Superstition to Science in one easy story.

Old Print of Isaac Newton
Old Print of Isaac Newton

Postscript. I have always said that the sermon that led to the destruction of the Shaft in 1549 was made at St Paul but cannot remember where I read this. The suggestion that the Maypole in Cornhill was not used after 1517 seems strange because why then would it rouse a crowd to riot in 1549? Of the sources I have at hand, the London Encyclopedia mentions the riot of 1517 in its entry on St Andrew Undershaft but says nothing to say how St Andrew was involved while ‘Layers of London’ says ‘It was last raised in 1517 when ensuing riots led to the celebration being banned.’ which is definitive sounding. But is it? I wonder, if it was banned for a year or two then allowed again?