Recently I have come across comments and articles about saints, so I thought I would clarify the biblical position on this. To cut to the chase, everyone who has accepted the Lord Jesus as Saviour and has been cleansed by his sacrifice on the Cross is “sanctified” thereby.
The bible does not speak of saints as being a specially holy group of people, but they are simply Christians.
The word “saint” is derived from a Greek verb (hagiazo) whose basic meaning is “to set apart” “sanctify” or “make holy”.
In the Old Testament, the idea of holiness or separateness was inherent in the concept of God. God dwelt in “the Holy Place” which could be entered only by priests, who had to be set apart, cleansed, SANCTIFIED in his service.
However, now ALL those sanctified by the blood of Christ are set apart for God, and are worthy to enter His presence! All Christians are now called ‘saints’, dedicated to Christ, set apart for the gospel (e.g., Matt 27:52 ; Acts 9:13 ; 26:10 ; Rev 14:12 ).
When Roman Catholicism took over most of the Church, in the centuries after the apostles died, the Pope and Priests believed themselves responsible for “creating saints” by examining people’s lives to see if they were somehow especially worthy of that honour.
Later still, Catholics began to pray to or even to worship these saints, and statues of Mary and the saints were created for that purpose. (Today, Catholics deny worshipping Mary and saints, but in practise they sometimes do. To pray to a dead person, ask their favour, and expect them to pray for you or obtain miracles for you from Heaven is certainly not acceptable.)
However, saints in the New Testament are never specially holy dead people who have been canonized by the church! The letter to the Christians at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:2), is addressed to “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy.” (that is, saints).
Now we come to the second part of my article today.
It is a fact that each region of the UK has a “patron saint” and I am glad of that! Because these men are (as we see above) Christians and thus knowing there is a very early Christian heritage for the UK is something I’m proud of.
Who Are These Men?
Three of the saint’s banners (England, Scotland and Ireland) are incorporated into the Union Flag. (Wales is not separately included.) See HERE for details. However, the four Patron Saints are as follows:
- England – St. George
- Wales – St. David
- Scotland – St. Andrew
- Ireland – St. Patrick
Who was St Andrew of Scotland?
Andrew was an apostle, the first disciple of Jesus and the brother of Simon Peter. The name “Andrew” means manly, brave. He was born between 5 and 10 AD in Bethsaida of Galilee. [John 1:35-42]
Andrew is said to have been martyred by crucifixion at the city of Patras (Patræ) in Achaea, in AD 60. A tradition developed that Andrew had been crucified on a cross of the form called crux decussata (X-shaped cross, or “saltire”), now commonly known as a “Saint Andrew’s Cross” — supposedly at his own request, as he deemed himself unworthy to be crucified on the same type of cross as Jesus had been.
Thus, as we see, the emblem of St. Andrew of Scotland is a white cross on a blue background.
Andrew’s remains were preserved at Patras. Shortly thereafter, most of the relics were transferred from Patras to Constantinople by order of the Roman emperor Constantius II around 357 and deposited in the Church of the Holy Apostles. Some of the relics were probably brought to Britain in 597 as part of the Augustine Mission, and then in 732 to Fife, by Bishop Acca of Hexham, a well-known collector of religious relics. Thus Andrew ended up in Scotland.
Russian and Ukraine
Tradition regarding the early Christian history of Ukraine holds that the apostle Andrew preached on the southern borders of modern-day Ukraine, reaching the future location of Kyiv, where he erected a cross on the site where the Saint Andrew’s Church of Kyiv currently stands, and where he prophesied the foundation of a great Christian city.
Because of this connection to Kyiv, Andrew is considered to be the patron saint of Ukraine and Russia, the latter country using the Saint Andrew’s Cross on its naval ensign.
The Saltire (or “Saint Andrew’s Cross” see above) is the national flag of Scotland.
Several legends state that the relics of Andrew were brought by divine guidance from Constantinople to the place where the modern Scottish town of St Andrews stands today (Gaelic, Cill Rìmhinn).
The 1320 Declaration of Arbroath cites Scotland’s conversion to Christianity by Andrew, “the first to be an Apostle”. Numerous parish churches in the Church of Scotland and congregations of other Christian churches in Scotland are named after Andrew. The National Shrine of Saint Andrew is located at St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh.
Who was Saint George of England?
Saint George (born circa 280 in Cappadocia; died 23 April 303), was a soldier of Greek descent in the Roman army and a member of the Praetorian Guard for Roman emperor Diocletian. He was sentenced to death for refusing to recant his Christian faith.
He was made patron saint of England in 1098 after the Battle of Antioch.
George was executed by decapitation on 23 April 303. A witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra of Rome to become a Christian as well, so she joined George in martyrdom. His body was buried in Lydda, where Christians soon came to honour him as a martyr.
St. George and the Dragon
The legend of Saint George and the Dragon was first recorded in the 11th century, saying that a fierce dragon was causing panic at the city of Silene, Libya which the people tried to pacify by giving it sheep to eat. But when the sheep were not enough they were forced to sacrifice humans instead.
The king’s daughter was selected to be sacrificed and no one was willing to take her place, so George saved the girl by slaying the dragon with a lance.
The king was so grateful that he offered him treasures as a reward for saving his daughter’s life, but George refused it and instead he gave these to the poor. The people of the city were so amazed at what they had witnessed that they became Christians and were all baptized.
In the medieval romances, the lance with which George slew the dragon was called Ascalon, after the Levantine city of Ashkelon, today in Israel. The name Ascalon was used by Winston Churchill for his personal aircraft during World War II, according to records at Bletchley Park.
In England, George was mentioned among the martyrs by the 8th-century monk Bede. The earliest dedication to the saint in England is a church at Fordington, Dorset, that is mentioned in the will of Alfred the Great.
However, George did not rise to the position of “patron saint” of England until the 14th century, and he was still obscured by Edward the Confessor, the traditional patron saint of England, until in 1552 during the reign of Edward VI all saints’ banners other than George’s were abolished in the English Reformation.
Edward III of England put his Order of the Garter under the banner of George, probably in 1348. The chronicler Jean Froissart observed the English invoking George as a battle cry on several occasions during the Hundred Years’ War.
When the English Reformation severely curtailed saints’ days in the calendar, Saint George’s Day was among the holidays that continued to be observed. George is remembered in the Church of England with a Festival on 23 April.
It became fashionable in the 15th century, with the full development of classical heraldry, to provide attributed arms to saints and other historical characters from the pre-heraldic ages. The widespread attribution to George of the red cross on a white field in Western art – “Saint George’s Cross” – probably first arose in Genoa, which had adopted this image for their flag and George as their patron saint in the 12th century.
In 1348 when Edward III of England chose George as the patron saint of his Order of the Garter, he also took to using a red-on-white cross in the hoist of his Royal Standard.
Who was St David of Wales?
St David was born in the year 500, according to legend, his mother, called Non, reputedly giving birth to him on a Pembrokeshire clifftop during a fierce storm. This place is marked by the ruins of Non’s Chapel, and a nearby holy well.
St David became a renowned preacher, founding monastic settlements and churches in Wales, Brittany and southwest England – including, possibly, the abbey at Glastonbury. St David reputedly made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, from which he brought back a stone that now sits in an altar at St Davids Cathedral, built on the site of his original monastery founded in the Glyn Rhosyn valley of Pembrokeshire.
Around 550, he attended the Synod of Brefi, where his eloquence in opposing Pelagianism caused his fellow monks to elect him Primate of the region. As such he presided over the Synod of Caerleon (the “Synod of Victory”) around 569.
St David and his monks followed a simple, austere life. They ploughed the fields by hand, rather than using oxen, and refrained from eating meat or drinking beer. St David himself was reputed to have consumed only leeks and water – which is perhaps why the leek became a national symbol of Wales.
Miracles (or Legends?)
The most famous story associated with St David took place when he was preaching to a large crowd in Llanddewi Brefi. When people at the back complained that they could not hear him, the ground on which he stood rose up to form a hill. A white dove, sent by God, settled on David’s shoulder.
St David died on 1 March in 589. He was buried at the site of St Davids Cathedral, where his shrine was a popular place of pilgrimage throughout the Middle Ages. His last words to his followers came from a sermon he gave on the previous Sunday: ‘Be joyful, keep the faith, and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do.’ The phrase ‘Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd’ – ‘Do the little things in life’ – is still a well-known maxim in Wales.
Over fifty churches in South Wales were dedicated to him in pre-Reformation days. Through his leadership, many monks went forth to evangelise Wales, Ireland, Cornwall and Armorica (Brittany and surrounding provinces).
The leek is associated with St. David and Wales. A broadside ballad published around 1630 claimed that the Welsh wore a leek in their hats to commemorate a battle fought on St David’s Day. So as to recognise friend from foe, the Welsh had pulled up leeks from a garden and put them in their hats, before going on to win the battle.
Saint David is usually represented standing on a hill with a dove on his shoulder. The flag of Saint David is normally a yellow cross on a black field, but it has also appeared as a black cross on a yellow field.
Who was Saint Patrick of Ireland?
Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and known for spreading Christianity throughout the country as a missionary during the 5th century.
Much of what we know of him either comes from chronicles of monks who recorded the history of the Church or from the ‘Confession of St. Patrick’, written by the man himself.
The man who would come to be known as Saint Patrick, apostle of Ireland, was born in Britain circa 386 A.D. His father, Calphurnius, was a deacon from a Roman family of high social standing. Patrick’s mother, Conchessa, was a close relative of the great patron Saint Martin of Tours.
Enslaved as a Teen
When Patrick was 16 years old, he was captured by Irish pirates. They brought him to Ireland where he was sold into slavery as a shepherd. But during that time Patrick was converted to Christianity and devoted himself to prayer. In a vision he was called to take the gospel to the pagan Irish.
Around 408 A.D., Patrick escaped slavery and was eventually reunited with his family. He then became a priest under the guidance of the missionary Saint Germain. He was ordained a deacon by the Bishop of Auxerre around 418 A.D.
However, ever minded of the call to evangelise Ireland, Patrick – having been ordained as a Bishop – returned to Ireland in 432 A.D. There he initially met with resistance but managed to spread Christian teachings far and wide through preaching, writing and demonstrating a Godly life.
That said, life was constantly difficult for Saint Patrick; he says that he was, on one occasion, beaten, robbed of all he had, and put in chains, perhaps awaiting execution. The land was in a semi-constant state of war and raiding parties struck out of the darkness, killing indiscriminately.
The local Druids constantly plotted against him and, as Ireland was not a united kingdom, even if he was successful in one area of Ireland he could well be in jeopardy the next town he arrived in.
Even with all this difficulty he persevered and succeeded, with Christ at his centre. By the time of his death the country was forever changed and St. Patrick has gone down in history as the apostle to the Irish.
Death and Legacy: Saint Patrick’s Day
Saint Patrick died circa 461 A.D. in Saul, Ireland, and is said to have been buried in the nearby town of Downpatrick, County Down.
Many legends also have been associated with his life including that he drove away all the snakes from Ireland although this may be a metaphor for his driving away evil and paganism from Ireland.
Saint Patrick’s Breastplate
Saint Patrick’s Breastplate is an ancient hymn attributed to Patrick during his Irish ministry in the 5th century.
The story behind the poem is that on May 1st 433AD which was the pagan date of Beltane, at the ancient Irish heritage site, the Hill of Tara, King Leary was presiding over a great festival. People had flocked from miles around to witness the horse racing and celebrations. These festivities could not begin until the lighting of the Beltane bonfire, which could only be done by the king himself.
Meanwhile, four miles away at the Hill of Slain, St Patrick had been led by God to commemorate the 400 year anniversary of Easter which he did by lighting his own bonfire with his small group of followers.
This fire was spotted by King Leary who could not believe the audacity of anyone lighting a fire at the same time as the king, and he sent his soldiers to extinguish Patrick’s fire and kill the person responsible for lighting it.
Patrick had nothing to protect him but his faith in God and a hymn. As he sang to God, incredibly the king’s men were blocked in their path by a herd of wild deer, giving Patrick and the believers time to escape.
The event won St Patrick many new followers in Ireland, and even some senior Druid priests converted to Catholicism. The hymn has been seen as a declaration and prayer for God’s protection throughout the ages since it was first used.
For the full text, see HERE:
My Last Word
Although, as I said, ‘saints’ are nothing more or less than genuine Christians doing the work of God, here I have singled out four men who lived and died for God and demonstrated their faith in such a way that not only did many accept the Lord as a consequence, but their names continue to stand out today as prime examples of Christianity.
They have therefore been adopted as “patrons” representing the four national regions of the UK, so much so that today our national flag demonstrates their importance to us, and undergirds the Christian foundation and heritage of this nation. Of that I am glad.
I only pray that this beginning can be sustained in the days to come, and that these four men would not be ashamed and disappointed if they could see what has become of the UK since their days.
May God recall us to our Christian foundation – the love of God’s word, prayer, truth, evangelism and the triumph of the gospel. Amen!