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Author: Alban Butler

The Life of Saint Andrew

Updated Tuesday, 30 November 2021
This extract from Alban Butler's 18th Century work on the lives of the saints tells the story of Scotland's patron saint.

The acts of this apostle’s martyrdom, though rejected by Tillemont, &c. are maintained to be genuine by Nat. Alexander, Hist. t. 1, and by Mr. Woog, professor of history and antiquities at Leipsic, in learned dissertations published in 1748 and 1751. The authority of this piece being contested, little stress is laid upon it: and the following account is gathered from the sacred writings, and those of the fathers.

 Saint Andrew, holding a scroll, looks intently to his left, indicating that the panel once may have formed part of a group of icons with Christ at the center. A Greek image of Saint Andrew

ST. ANDREW was a native of Bethsaida, a town in Galilee, upon the banks of the lake of Genesareth. He was the son of Jonas or John, a fisherman of that town, and brother to Simon Peter, but whether elder or younger the holy scriptures have not acquainted us. They had afterwards a house at Capharnaum, where Jesus lodged when he preached in that city. It is no small proof of the piety and good inclinations of St. Andrew, that when St. John Baptist began to preach penance in the desert, he was not content with going to hear him as others did, but became his disciple, passed much of his time in hearing his instructions, and studied punctually to practise all his lessons and copy his example; but he often returned home to his fishing trade. He was with his master when St. John Baptist seeing Jesus pass by the day after he had been baptized by him, said: Behold the Lamb of God.

Andrew, by the ardour and purity of his desires, and his fidelity in every religious practice, deserved to be so far enlightened as to comprehend this mysterious saying, and, without delay, he and another disciple of the Baptist went after Jesus, who drew them secretly by the invisible bands of his grace, and saw them with the eyes of his spirit before he beheld them with his corporal eyes. Turning back as he walked, and seeing them follow him, he said: What seek ye? They said, they desired to know where he dwelt: and he bade them come and see. There remained but two hours of that day, which they spent with him, and, according to several fathers, the whole night following. “O how happy a day, how happy a night did they pass!” cries out St. Austin.

“Who will tell us what things they then learned from the mouth of their Saviour. Let us build ourselves a dwelling for him in our hearts, to which he may come, and where he may converse with us.” For this happiness is enjoyed by a soul which opens her affections to God, and receives the rays of his divine light in heavenly contemplation. The joy and comfort which St. Andrew felt in that conversation are not to be expressed by words. By it he clearly learned that Jesus was the Messias and the Redeemer of the world, and resolved from that moment to follow him: he was the first of his disciples, and therefore is styled by the Greeks the Protoclet, or First Called.

Andrew, who loved affectionately his brother Simon, called afterwards Peter, could not rest till he had imparted to him the infinite treasure which he had discovered, and brought him to Christ, that he might also know him. Simon was no sooner come to Jesus, but the Saviour of the world admitted him as a disciple, and gave him the name of Peter. The brothers tarried one day with him to hear his divine doctrine, and the next day returned home again. From this time they became Jesus’s disciples, not constantly attending upon him, as they afterwards did, but hearing him frequently, as their business would permit, and returning to their trade and family affairs again.

Jesus, in order to prove the truth of his divine doctrine by his works, wrought his first miracle at the marriage at Cana in Galilee, and was pleased that these two brothers should be present at it with his holy mother. Jesus, going up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, stayed some days in Judæa, and baptized in the Jordan. Peter and Andrew also baptized by his authority, and in his name. Our Saviour being come back into Lower Galilee in autumn, and meeting one day Peter and Andrew fishing in the lake, before the end of the same year, he called them to a constant attendance upon the ministry of the gospel, saying, that he would make them fishers of men. Whereupon, they immediately left their nets to follow him, and never went from him again. The year following the Son of God formed the college of his apostles, in which our two brothers are named by the evangelists at the head of the rest.

Not long after, Jesus went down to Capharnaum, and lodged at the house of Peter and Andrew, and, at the request of them both, cured Peter’s wife’s mother of a fever, by taking her by the hand, and rebuking the fever, by which it left her. When Christ would not send away the multitude of five thousand persons, who had followed him into the desert, till they were refreshed with some food, St. Philip said two hundred penny worth of bread would not suffice. But Andrew seemed to express a stronger faith, saying, there was a boy who had five barley loaves and two small fishes: which, indeed, were nothing among so many: but Christ could, if he pleased, exert his power, seeing he was greater than Eliseus who, with twenty loaves, fed a hundred men.

When Christ was at Bethania, at the house of Lazarus, a little before his Sacred Passion, certain Greeks who came to worship God at the festival, addressed themselves to Philip, begging him to introduce them to Jesus. Philip did not undertake to do it alone; but spoke to St. Andrew, and they both together spoke to their divine master, and procured these strangers that happiness. This shows the great credit St. Andrew had with Christ; on which account St. Bede calls him the Introductor to Christ, and says he had this honour, because he brought St. Peter to him. Christ having foretold the destruction of the temple, Peter, John, James, and Andrew, asked him privately when that should come to pass, that they might forewarn their brethren to escape the danger.

After Christ’s resurrection and the descent of the Holy Ghost, St. Andrew preached the gospel in Scythia, as Origen testifies. Sophronius, who wrote soon after St. Jerom, and translated his catalogue of illustrious men, and some other works into Greek, adds Sogdiana and Colchis. Theodoret tells us, that he passed into Greece; St. Gregory Nazianzen mentions particularly Epirus, and St. Jerom Achaia. St. Paulinus says, this divine fisherman, preaching at Argos, put all the philosophers there to silence.

St. Philastrius tells us, that he came out of Pontus into Greece, and that in his time people at Sinope were persuaded that they had his true picture, and the pulpit in which he had preached in that city. The Muscovites have long gloried that St. Andrew carried the gospel into their country as far as the mouth of the Borysthenes, and to the mountains where the city of Kiow now stands, and to the frontiers of Poland.

If the ancients mean European Scythia, when they speak of the theatre of his labours, this authority is favourable to the pretensions of the Muscovites. The Greeks understand it of Scythia, beyond Sebastopolis in Colchis, and perhaps also of the European; for they say he planted the faith, in Thrace, and particularly at Byzantium, afterwards called Constantinople. But of this we meet with no traces in antiquity. Several Calendars commemorate the feast of the chair of St. Andrew at Patræ in Achaia. It is agreed that he laid down his life there for Christ.

St. Paulinus says, that having taken many people in the nets of Christ, he confirmed the faith which he had preached, by his blood at Patræ. SS. Sophronius, Gaudentius, and Austin assure us, that he was crucified; St. Peter Chrysologus says, on a tree; Pseudo-Hippolytus adds, on an olive-tree. In the hymn of Pope Damasus it is barely mentioned that he was crucified.

When the apostle saw his cross at a distance, he is said to have 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.”

Upon these ardent breathings St. Bernard writes:“When he saw at a distance the cross prepared for him, his countenance did not change, nor did his blood freeze in his veins, nor did his hair stand on end, nor did he lose his voice, nor did his body tremble, nor was his soul troubled, nor did his senses fail him, as it happens to human frailty: but the flame of charity which burned in his breast, cast forth sparks through his mouth.” The saint goes on, showing that fervour and love will make penance and labour sweet, seeing it can sweeten death itself, and, by the unction of the Holy Ghost, make even its torments desirable.

The body of St. Andrew was translated from Patræ to Constantinople in 357, together with those of SS. Luke and Timothy, and deposited in the church of the apostles, which Constantine the Great had built a little before. SS. Paulinus and Jerom mention miracles wrought on that occasion. The churches of Milan, Nola, Brescia, and some other places were, at the same time, enriched with small portions of these relics, as we are informed by SS. Ambrose, Gaudentius, Paulinus, &c.

When the city of Constantinople was taken by the French, Cardinal Peter of Capua brought the relics of St. Andrew thence into Italy in 1210, and deposited them in the cathedral of Amalphi, where they still remain. 

Thomas the Despot, when the Turks had made themselves masters of Constantinople, going from Greece into Italy, and carrying with him the head of St. Andrew, presented it to Pope Pius II., in the year 1461, who allotted him a monastery for his dwelling, with a competent revenue, as is related by George Phranza, the last of the Byzantine historians, who wrote in four books the history of the Greek emperors after the Latins had lost Constantinople, with a curious account of the siege and plunder of that city by the Turks, in which tragical scene he had a great share, being Protovestiarius, one of the chief officers in the emperor’s court and army. 

It is the common opinion that the cross of St. Andrew was in the form of the letter X, styled a cross decussate, composed of two pieces of timber crossing each other obliquely in the middle. That such crosses were sometimes used is certain: yet no clear proofs are produced as to the form of St. Andrew’s cross. It is mentioned in the records of the duchy of Burgundy, that the cross of St. Andrew was brought out of Achaia, and placed in the nunnery of Weaune near Marseilles. It was thence removed into the abbey of St. Victor in Marseilles, before the year 1250, and is still shown there. A part thereof inclosed in a silver case gilt, was carried to Brussels by Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy and Brabant, who, in honour of it, instituted the Knights of the Golden Fleece, who, for the badge of their Order, wear a figure of this cross, called St. Andrew’s cross, or the cross of Burgundy.

The Scots honour St. Andrew as principal patron of their country, and their historians tell us, that a certain abbot called Regulus, brought thither from Patræ, in 369, or rather from Constantinople some years later, certain relics of this apostle which he reposited in a church which he built in his honour, with a monastery called Abernethy, where now the city of St. Andrew’s stands.  Usher proves that many pilgrims resorted to this church from foreign countries, and that the Scottish monks of that place were the first who were called Culdees.

Hungus, king of the Picts, soon after the year 800, in thanksgiving for a great victory which he had gained over the Northumbrians, gave to this church the tenth part of all the land of his dominions. Kenneth II., king of the Scots, having overcome the Picts, and entirely extinguished their kingdom in North Britain in 845, repaired and richly endowed the church of St. Regulus or Rueil, in which the arm of St. Andrew was reverently kept.

The Muscovites say he preached the faith amongst them, and honour him as the principal titular saint of their empire. Peter the Great instituted under his name the first and most noble Order of knighthood, or of the blue ribbon: leaving the project of a second Order of St. Alexander Newski, or of the red ribbon, to be carried into execution by his widow.

St. Andrew, by conversing with Christ, extinguished in his breast all earthly passions and desires, and attained to the happiness of his pure divine love. We often say to ourselves, that we also desire to purchase holy love, the most valuable of all treasures, and the summit of dignity and happiness. But these desires are fruitless and mere mockery, unless we earnestly set about the means. In the first place, we must be at the expense (if that can be called an expense, which is the first step to true liberty and happiness) of laying a deep foundation of humility, meekness and self-denial. We must first, with the apostle, leave all things; that is to say, we must sincerely and in spirit forsake the world, (though we live in it,) and must also renounce and die to ourselves before we can be admitted to the familiar converse of our Redeemer and God, or before he receives us to his chaste spiritual embraces, and opens to us the treasure of his choicest graces.

This preparation and disposition of soul, it must be our constant care always to improve; for, in the same proportion that the world and self-love are banished from our hearts, shall we advance in divine love. But this great virtue, the queen, the form, and the soul of all perfect virtue is learned, exercised, and improved, by conversing much with God in holy meditation, reading, and assiduous fervent prayer and recollection: also by its external acts, in all manner of good works, especially those of fraternal charity and spiritual mercy.


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