Welcome to St Andrews

In the 4th century AD Constantinople was a troubled city, beset by warring factions. It was here that an angel is said to have appeared before St Rule, a Greek nobleman, and instructed him to carry the relics of the apostle Andrew, entombed in the city, to the ends of the earth for safekeeping. After taking the relics from Andrew's tomb, St Rule traveled north until a tempest drove him onto the East Neuk of Fife, Scotland, where he came across a small fishing hamlet called Muckros. Muckros had probably been settled for thousands of years by this point - although little is known about its early development - certainly the Romans built a marching camp nearby in the 1st century AD. But it was the arrival of the sacred relics that really put the settlement on the map: St Mary on the Rock (the remains of which overlook today's harbour) was built to house the relics and Muckros, then renamed Kilrymont ("the hill of the church of Rule") became an important place of pilgrimage. Later the town was renamed after the sacred relics themselves, and so St Andrews came into being.

The Beach at St Andrews

In 1160 St Andrews Cathedral was founded as a new home for the sacred relics. Consecrated in the presence of King Robert I in 1318, St Andrews Cathedral is the largest religious building ever constructed in Scotland, a fact which testifies to the town's place as Scotland's premier ecclesiastical centre and one of Europe's most important religious sites throughout the middle ages. The thousands of pilgrims that came to the town every year stimulated the town's growth. This constant coming and going helped to promote trade, primarily with the Low Countries. In 1620, when St Andrews became a Royal Burgh, the harbour may have been capable of berthing up to 300 boats. The town walls and fortifications built in medieval St Andrews testify to a town of some prosperity: the Mill Port, The Pends and West Port gates are amongst the finest to have been built in medieval Scotland. A Castle was built around 1200, which was to be the residence of the Archbishops of St Andrews, and became known as the Episcopal Palace. The impressive ruins of the castle are situated on a rocky promontory with a drop to the sea on three sides.

In 1411, prompted by St Andrews' status as a religious centre, Scotland's first university was founded by Bishop Henry Wardlaw. Visitors are welcome to walk around the quads of St Salvator's (in North Street) and St Mary's (in south Street). In St Mary's quad, named after Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587), visitors can see a thorn tree said to have been planted by the Queen. The University has a number of claims to fame: the Scottish parliament held a session here in (1645-46), in 1862 Britain's first female student enrolled in St Andrews; famous alumni include Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP, Edward Jenner, who fought smallpox with cowpox and Fay Weldon, an eminent writer.

Being the centre of the Scottish Church, St Andrews was to be the setting for many of the dramatic events which characterised Scotland's bloody Reformation. David Beaton (1494-1546), Archbishop of of St Andrews in the 1540s, was a fanatical persecutor of Lutheran supporters: he made a point of witnessing many being burned at the stake. Beaton held widespread influence in the country when George Wishart (1513-1546), one of Scotland's leading reformers, returned to preach his faith in his homeland around 1543. Outraged, Beaton had Wishart arrested and burnt at the stake outside his residence, the Episcopal Palace, while he watched from his window. Three months later a gang of reformers crept into the Palace and set upon Beaton while he lay in his bed. The terrified Beaton cried out -"Don't slay me, I'm a priest!". He was nonetheless murdered and his body was hung from the battlements. Possibly it is a reflection of the almost universal contempt in which he was held that his body was not buried for 7 months. In 1559 St Andrews saw another important event in the Reformation. After three days of preaching by John Knox (Scotland's most famous religious reformer) in the Holy Trinity Church, an angry mob stormed St Andrews Cathedral and sacked it, destroying its "altars and idolatrie". Although the building remained intact it fell into decline. Today the cathedral is one of Scotland's most picturesque ruins.

Nowadays St Andrews draws a new type of pilgrim. As the home of golf, St Andrews is a Mecca for the sport's enthusiasts, who come in their thousands from all over the world each year hoping to play on the world's first golf course: the "Old Course", situated to the north of the town. The lime grass and sand dunes bequeathed to the Fife coast by nature took the form of fairways and bunkers thousands of years ago. The shepherds who first used this land could be found in idle moments thwacking stones about with the heads of their crooks and, thereby, created what would become a multi-million-dollar industry. The first course was up and running by about 1400 AD. It had become so popular by 1457 that King James II decided to ban it, on the pretext that it distracted men from useful pursuits, like archery. While James III reiterated the ban, James IV gave in and became a golfer himself. In 1797 the bankrupt St Andrews council sold the course to rabbit farmers and thus sparked a war between the golfers and the farmers. These "Rabbit Wars" were legal, but also physical, and only ended when a wealthy golf enthusiast bought back the land for the golfers. It was not until the 19th century that the sport really took off internationally. Today the Old Course is just one of 5 courses in St Andrews, as part of Europe's largest golfing complex. St Andrews is also home to the British Golfing Museum. The sport has come to contribute a great deal to the economy and culture of the town.

While golf tournaments and the university can make St Andrews a lively place, the town itself largely maintains a medieval feel. The town is centred on its churches, cathedral, castle, university, and other ancient buildings, all set in the original medieval street network. For this reason it is without doubt one of Scotland's most beautiful locations. The top of St Rule's tower, part of the ruins of the cathedral, affords the most breathtaking views of the town and coast. Perhaps it is fitting that such a vantage point should be named after the man who is responsible for bringing St Andrew's remains to such a beautiful place.