The wonderful history of St Andrews

The Saint explores the long history of St Andrews.

Photo: Elliot Davies

Serving as one of Scotland’s ecclesiastical and intellectual hubs, the quaint town of St Andrews bears a rich history which is punctuated by revolution, martyrdom and political dissonance.

The town as it exists today owes its origins and nomenclature to a colourful, if apocryphal, tale of pious devotion. In 345, the Greek monk, St Regulus, purportedly received a divine message exhorting him to move the bones of Andrew the Apostle to the farthest end of the earth. Travelling west, the monk’s arduous journey came to end in 347 when he was shipwrecked on the shores of Fife. Here, St Regulus established a shrine which would act as a sacred enticement to pilgrims throughout Europe. Originally built as a hotel in the 1880’s, St Regulus hall (located just off of south street) was acquired by the university in the 1950’s and is now home to roughly 175 undergraduate students.

Centuries later, in 1070, Robert I, Prior of St Andrews, constructed the church of St Regulus which was to serve as the new resting place of the saintly relics. By 1158, work had begun on a more extravagant construction, the Cathedral of St Andrews. 

The cathedral’s grandeur, however, was not to last. In the sixteenth century, the religious upheaval of the Reformation revolutionised the cultural landscape of Scotland. Galvanized by the preaching of John Knox, reformers robbed and desecrated the cathedral leading to its subsequent abandonment and deterioration. However, stones from the fallen cathedral were later used to build many of the homes throughout St Andrews. Although not much of the cathedral remains, the ruins continue to host a steady flow of tourists and historians alike and is always a go to place to stroll with your Jannettas ice cream in hand if on a first date.

Other markers of this period still exist throughout the town, acting as constant reminders of the religious and political histories that lace our beloved cobblestone streets. Stepping over the PH on North Street reminds the town members of Protestant Martyr Patrick Hamilton who was burned at the stake for heresy outside of St Salvator’s quadrangle in 1528 while fighting for religious change.

The University itself dates back to the summer of 1410 when an assembly of masters founded a school of higher studies to offer Scottish students a safe haven for intellectual pursuits.  In 1413, the Bishop Wardlaw and King James I sent a petition to Pope Benedict XIII requesting full university status. The request was accepted and on 28 August 1413, a series of six papal bulls gave birth to the third oldest university in the English-speaking world. Later in 1889 under the Universities Act, women were allowed to receive a degree equal to that of men. In 1894 student Agnes Blackadder became the first woman to receive this degree; becoming a pioneer for other female students. ABH, formerly known as New Hall was renamed after Agnes Forbes Blackadder in 2012 upon the student’s choice.

When discussing St Andrews, one must not forget the considerable impact that the Old Course has contributed to the town’s history. The St Andrews Old Course is the oldest golf course in the world and is home to the Royal and Ancient golf club which continues to hold the reputation of being one of the most prestigious clubs worldwide. In fact, the St Andrews golf club shaped the way that we play golf today when in 1764 the members decided to combine a portion of the course, bringing the game from 22 holes to 18 as we know it today.

Another more recent aspect of St Andrews’ lavish history is the notable addition to its alumni of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Prince William began his studies at the University in 2001, where he began studying Art History, but later changed his degree as many students are known to do, to Geography. He graduated with an upper second class honours degree.

While at St Andrews, Prince William also met his future wife, Kate Middleton in 2001. They both initially studied the same subject of Art History and resided in the same halls of residence, St Salvator’s.  

Both the Duke and Duchess have returned to St Andrews on multiple occasions, most notably to commemorate the University’s 600th anniversary celebrations. Whilst at the event in 2012, the Duke called St Andrews “home”. He furthermore said that “I have been able to lead as ‘normal’ student life as I could have hoped for and I’m very grateful to everyone particularly the locals.”

In other recent history, West Sands beach in St Andrews was immortalised by the 1981 movie, Chariots of Fire. West Sands was used to portray Broadstairs in Kent for one of the best known scenes in the film. Athletes are seen running barefoot on the wet sand as waves break close by, whilst the action plays out to Vangelis’ famous score.

The scene was also reenacted by Sir Rowan Atkinson as part of the celebrations for the opening of the London 2012 Olympic games.

Upholding the history and traditions of the town is something that the students and locals pride themselves in. Since its founding in 1926, the Kate Kennedy Club has been dedicated to upholding these values by leading historic processions and organizing charity balls. The club plays a large role during the months of April and May when they hold their annual procession and memorial Gaudie torch lit pier walk. The procession begins at St Salvator’s quad and follows a horse drawn carriage down the town’s streets where the members of the club tell the story of the town’s history through their comical portrayal of famous past and current St Andrews residents and historical characters ranging from John Cleese to Mary Queen of Scots.

St Andrews has an illustrious history, and with every new fresher it grows more colourful, so go and enjoy our wonderful, ancient institution.


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