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The pilgrimage town of St Andrews
St Andrews
The layout of St Andrews was determined by its pilgrimage past

The earliest missionary to St Andrews is thought to have been Saint Kenneth, establishing a base for the church around AD570 in Kilrymont.

The history of the town can be traced through its religious sites and places of worship.

Kilrymont was re-named St Andrews after Saint Andrew's relics were brought to the town in the Middle Ages.

The great cathedral of St Andrews was built to house the relics as the town became the focus of pilgrimage.

Pilgrim routes

According to legend, Saint Rule had a vision whereby he was told to bring the relics of Saint Andrew to the furthest corner of the earth; it is said he was ship-wrecked at Kilrymont.

St Andrews Cathedral
St Andrews grew as a town of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages

What is more likely is that the relics were brought to the town by the Northumbrians in an effort to promote Saint Andrew over Saint Columba and, in doing so, lessening the influence of the Gaels.

When the Picts and Gaels were brought together under Kenneth McAlpin, St Andrews Cathedral became the focus of pilgrim routes from Scotland and abroad.

Queen Margaret developed the route of pilgrimage from South Scotland to St Andrews when she established the ferry from South to North Queensferry. This was specifically designed to carry the increasing number of pilgrims from the South to St Andrews.

Town layout

The Cathedral, founded in 1162 and completed in 1318 dictated the layout of the town in various ways.

By the 15th Century, pilgrims to St Andrews were so numerous that they had to be taken firstly to a holding station on the outskirts of the town.

Pilgrims would make their way to the Cathedral down South Street then after venerating the relics would proceed in a one-way system up North Street.

Market Street, between North and South Street, is where traders and shops were located to serve the needs of the pilgrims.

Holy sites

Holy Trinity Church was, and still is, the parish church of St Andrews. The church was originally sited close to the Cathedral, with the earliest written reference to the church dating back to 1140.

The interior of Holy Trinity Church, St Andrews
Holy Trinity Church retained its medieval appearance after remodelling

In 1412 Holy Trinity Church transferred to its present site in the middle of the town. The building was rebuilt at the end of the 18th Century and in 1909 was restored to its medieval appearance. Parts of the church date back to 1412 but much of it was remodelled under the plans and guidance of minister Patrick Playfair, who was appointed to the church in 1899.

An even older Christian site in St Andrews is that of St Mary on the Rock. The foundations that remain today date back to the 12th Century but the site and church date back to the 8th Century.

Fragments of crosses found at the site (and now housed in St Andrews Museum) suggest the church may have been built for the Culdee community. Little is known of the Culdees but it is thought that they were ousted from the site by Augustinian canons who took residence there when St Andrews Cathedral was built.

Martyrdoms and violence

St Andrews religious history is not without violence and sadness. St Andrews Castle, which served as the seat of the Bishops of St Andrews, has been the site of murder and assault.

St Andrews Castle
St Andrews Castle was the site of murder and violence

In 1546 George Wishart, a Protestant, was killed outside the Castle while the Bishop of St Andrews, Cardinal Beaton, looked on from a castle window. Wishart's supporters stormed the castle and put Beaton to death, hanging him from the same window from which he had witnessed Wishart's death.

Another earlier martyrdom was that of Protestant reformer Patrick Hamilton. Hamilton, who had returned from Europe to St Andrews as a follower of Martin Luther, was burned for his beliefs near the University Chapel in 1528.

John Knox, who was affected by Hamilton and Wishart's martyrdoms, preached a powerful sermon in St Andrews in 1559 which led to Catholic images, tombs and statues being destroyed in the town as well as the Cathedral being ransacked. St Andrews Cathedral was abandoned with the town losing its status as the holy capital of Scotland. The Protestant Reformation took hold across Scotland in 1560.

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