Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Saltire

This first week, I see it fitting to introduce some of the things that make Scotland Scotland. What better to do that then telling the story of their flag? You have most likely seen it without realizing what it was for it is the white X behind the red cross on the Union Jack. This was a result of the Union between Scotland and England in 1707 and combined the Cross of St. Andrew (the Scottish flag) and St. George's Cross, (the flag of England.)

The Scottish flag called St Andrew's Cross and more commonly known as the Saltire, is actually the oldest flag still in use. It was not just a fancy of color choice, but a picture of an event from Scottish history.

We're not sure of the actual date, but some time around 832 AD, an army of Scots and Picts were being pursued by an English army, who were led by their king, Athelstan. The Scots saw that it was pretty much hopeless, for they were outnumbered, so they crossed a ford and decided to make a stand and die fighting like men. The story goes that then, they saw the white cross of St. Andrew appear in the blue summer sky and, thinking it was a sign from God, they charged the English army with new vigor and won the day, the battle even resulting in the death of the English king.

The place where this happened is now called Athelstaneford after the English king who died there. The church in the village, that dates back to the eleven hundreds has a cairn in memorial of this event. The inscription on the cairn says:

Tradition says that near this place in times remote Pictish and Scottish warriors about to defeat an army of Northumbrians, saw against a blue sky a great white cross like Saint Andrew's, and in its image made a banner which became the flag of Scotland.

This was the flag that flew in the field of battle ever since that day and saw all the victories and defeats that Scottish people did. It flew over William Wallace and Robert the Bruce and at Culloden above the Jacobites. The late Scottish historian, David R. Ross, who sadly just passed away at the beginning of this month, penned this tribute to the Saltire:

"I stand before this flag. The white Saltire of St. Andrew in the blue summers' sky. It represents the soil from which I sprang, and to which, one day, I must return. It represents Scotland. As it was. As it is. As it will be."

Slainte, Hazel

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