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Ruins of St. Andrew's Cathedral tells history of Scotland

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 17th, 2011
Catholic Online (

The ruins of St. Andrew's Cathedral overlooks the North Sea in St. Andrews. In addition to the Norman and Gothic ruins of the medieval cathedral, the site also includes St. Rule's Tower and a museum containing an important Pictish sarcophagus. In many ways, the story of the cathedral is the story of Scotland, a fiercely independent land in the United Kingdom.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Christian faith is said to have arrived in St. Andrews in the 6th century with a Celtic monastic community founded by St. Kenneth. In the 8th century, the king of the Picts founded a church dedicated to St. Andrew on the coastal site. The apostle Andrew was adopted as the patron saint of the Picts and later of Scotland. The saltire, or X-shaped cross that adorns the Scottish flag is his symbol.

Streams of pilgrims came to visit in the eight century and the city became known as St. Andrews. Around 908, the bishop of the Scots transferred his seat from Dunkeld to St. Andrews, giving even more importance to the town.

A new, larger cathedral was begun in 1160 by Bishop Arnold, the same year King Malcolm IV granted St. Andrews the status of royal burgh. The cathedral was consecrated in 1318 in the presence of King Robert I.

By the early 12th century the bishopric of St. Andrews had been regarded as the most important in the Scottish kingdom -- but the fate of the cathedral was soon to take an unexpected turn, thanks to the rising tide of the Scottish Reformation.

Inspired by a fiery sermon preached by John Knox in the parish church, the people of St. Andrews attacked and "cleansed" St. Andrew's Cathedral of idolatry in 1559. It was eventually abandoned altogether in 1561 in favor of the city's parish church, the cathedral gradually fell into ruin.

The ruins of St. Andrew's Cathedral are spread across a grassy plateau overlooking the North Sea on the east side of town. St. Andrews Cathedral was at one time the largest church in Scotland, with an internal length of 357 feet.

The cathedral today has been reduced to its foundations due to post-Reformation neglect and looting. Still standing are the east fašade, the west facade with its round portal, part of the south wall of the nave, and nearly the entire length of the priory precinct wall.
Cathedral Museum

South of the cathedral is the cloister, with a ruined chapter house and intact undercroft. The latter now houses the Cathedral Museum, which displays a fascinating collection of artifacts from St. Andrews Cathedral and the monastery that surrounded it, including the celebrated St. Andrews Sarcophagus of c.800 AD.

The St. Andrews Sarcophagus is an important example of late Pictish sculpture and a beautiful work of art. Carved around 800 AD, the side panels of the tomb depict scenes in high relief from the Old Testament story of David, interspersed with exotic and mythological animals.

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