Event Write Up
On the eve of battle against a rival emperor at the Milvian Bridge outside Rome, Constantine saw the cross of Christ in the setting sun. The next day, 28 October 312 AD, Constantine was victorious. This would lead to Christianity becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Timothy D. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1981), p 43 wrote ‘Constantine himself, years later, gave a fuller account, whose truth he asseverated emphatically and upon oath. One afternoon on their march, both he and his army had seen a cross of light in the sky and the words “in this conquer: during the next night, in a dream, Christ appeared to him with the heavenly sign and instructed him to make standards for his army in this form. On waking, Constantine questioned the Christians in his entourage, who probably included Ossius, the bishop of Corduba. They explained that Constantine had indeed seen Christ and that the sign signified immortality and victory over death. Constantine then took a public and significant step. He replaced the pagan standards of his troops with a new Christian sign which either bore or soon acquired a name which reflects its origin: the labarum— a Gallic word, as befitted the largely Gallic and German army of 312 … It seems natural to conclude that he was converted to Christianity before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. But the moment of psychological conviction may have followed, rather than preceded, his open avowal; it perhaps occurred during the battle, at the moment victory became certain … After 28 October 312 the emperor consistently thought of himself as God’s servant, entrusted with a divine mission to convert the Roman Empire to Christianity.’
The Labarum is generally considered to be the superimposed Greek letters X and P (Ch and R of Christos in Greek).
Scholars agree that the ninth century Battle of Athelstaneford in East Lothian is retold in the earliest documents so as to bring out the parallels with the Battle of Milvian Bridge. King Angus sees a bright light in the sky, in which the Cross of Christ and, later, the Cross of St Andrew, appears to him and his army.
The Scottish historian, Nigel Tranter seems to have assumed the sign in the sky was a cloud and not a solar phenomenon, but he acknowledged that he was a writer of romantic fiction. This is what he had to say on the subject, in his manuscript at the National Library of Scotland: NLS Acc 10967 No 10 Address to West Lothian Covenant Association, St Andrew’s Day, 1951 : “tradition asserts that a cross, of the shape on which St Andrew is said to have been crucified (our good Scots Saltire), appeared in the heavens to Achaius, King of Scots, and Angus MacFergus, King of the Picts, the night before their victorious battle with the English Athelstan, reputedly near Athelstaneford, the East Lothian village where, incidentally, I was married … all this may or may not be the hardest of fact — though who am I, as a perpetrator of romantic fiction, to cast doubt on any such picturesque stories? … “
As for the bones of St Andrew, a charming medieval legend records that St Regulus sailed from Patras with the bones of the Saint, finally being cast ashore on the Fife coast at what today is St Andrews. In St Andrews Cathedral at Amalfi, Italy, is the cranium of St Andrew. In Patras, Greece, where St Andrew is believed to have been martyred, is another section of the head.
From as early as 1320 the Scots used the fact that St Andrew was the brother of St Peter and their patron to persuade Popes to defend them against the English. In Greek Andrew’s name means ‘strong’ and both Bruce and Wallace acknowledged the strength that the Scottish nation derived from their association with Andrew.
In later years the Scottish diaspora united itself with the Scottish homeland by forming St Andrew societies to help Scots down on their luck and to celebrate the traditions of Scotland.
Today the long association with Andrew offers new opportunities. Abstract sculptures of the Thistle and the Saltire are planned to mark the western gateway to Scotland at Gretna, so why not an Angel of the North-style commemoration close to the A1 near Traprain? The Saltire is a multiplication-sign. Why could it not be seen flashing in the sun, as Constantine and King Angus once saw it?