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(Above) This is the Scotland flag. Scotland’s iconic national flag flies prominently in a variety of places throughout the nation. This one I snapped on top of the National Gallery in Edinburgh, as it happens. And, do you know, I never noticed till now I’d also photographed one of those security cameras that Scotland has in such profusion. (There was that recent statistic, for instance, about the very small and mostly rural Shetland Islands Council having more cameras than the San Francisco Police Department.)
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, the national flag of Scotland. Sometimes it’s called the saltire. This is from the Latin verb, saltare, to leap, and, no, I don’t see the connection either. Chambers Dictionary also describes it as an ‘ordinary’, which is, in this context, a heraldic term describing a class of simple geometric forms used in heraldry. Phew. Enough already.
It’s also called the St Andrew’s Cross. Andrew – fisherman and apostle - is the patron saint of Scotland, though he shares this job with Russia, Greece and Rumania. He was crucified at Patras in Greece. (Edinburgh is sometimes called the Athens of the North. This makes Patras, Athens’ seaport, the Leith of the South.)
You would have thought that under such desperate circumstances, Andrew would have been preoccupied with other matters, such as asking ‘Hey, you Romans, is this gonna hurt much?’, but, no, as well as always looking on the bright side of life, the legend relates how he thoughtfully asked for a different shaped cross from the one that had been used for his colleague, hence this type was forever associated with him.
Various legends also surround the linkage of the cross to the Scotland flag. Basically, the elements include St Andrew visiting a certain 9th-century King Angus of the Picts in a dream – maybe – and promising him victory against the Angles. It is entirely possible that Andrew at this time also specified that the blue ground colour of the Scotland flag had to be Pantone 300.
Another bit of the legend involves KIng Angus at the head of his forces seeing a St Andrews Cross shaped cloud formation as just a wee sign of encouragement on the morning of the battle. I like to think that Angus suddenly was in a massive time-warp and that he was looking at the con-trails of two passing jets - as this explanation is as likely as the rest of the story so far.
The 'cross-in-the-sky' legend is specifically located at Athelstaneford, near Haddington in East Lothian, where a saltire always flies. You can visit this little place on your way back from your East Lothian tour from Edinburgh.
And that is probably enough on the story of the iconic Scottish banner – except for the other Scotland flag, the Lion Rampant, associated with the pretty groovy King William ‘the Lion’ of Scotland. (Follow that link for a list of kings.)
In any case, with the Scottish Independence debate likely to be in the news for many months to come (note to self: must change this in 2014), it's likely the Saltire will be increasingly high profile, though possibly not part of the Union flag for much longer. Who can say?
Find out some more facts about Scotland.
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Scotland in Three Days