The Dark Ages heralds the first recorded mention of a town on the site of St Andrews, then called Kilrymont. The earliest inhabitants of the area were farmers and fishermen, but their simple lifestyle was to be entirely transformed in the medieval era due to the arrival of monks, pilgrims, academics, merchants and armies. Our image (right) shows the St Andrews official coat of arms, showing St Andrew and a boar (the name given to the area in the Dark Ages was Muckross, derived fron “muick” meaning “boar” and “ross” meaning “promontory”. The coat of arms incorporates the town’s motto “Dum Spiro Spero” – “While I breathe, I hope”. (Please note, use of the coat of arms is strictly regulated by the Royal Burgh of St Andrews Community Council and it may not be used without consent).
Religion was a strong influence in the development of St Andrews (the name change came about because of the legend that the bones of the Christian apostle St Andrew were brought here). Celtic monks built the chapel of St Mary on the Rock, the ruins of which still stand near St Andrews Harbour, and the imposing St Rule’s Tower was initially part of the first church of the Augustinian priory in St Andrews.
St Andrews’ great Cathedral – constructed in 1160 – was for seven centuries the largest building in Scotland. Its majesty helped to establish St Andrews as the centre of the country’s religious life, which in turn helped St Andrews to become hugely influential in Scottish political circles. Pilgrims flocked here from all over Europe, and St Andrew became the patron saint of Scotland.
Medieval St Andrews supported two further friaries: one founded by the Dominicans (Blackfriars), whose ruined chapel still remains on South Street, and later another by the Franciscans (Greyfriars) for whom the only remaining mark on St Andrews is a street name.
During this period, the town was concentrated around the harbour and cathedral areas, and extended as far inland as the present line of North and South Castle Street. But greater prosperity, a rising population and the growing importance of St Andrews as an ecclesiastical, academic and trading centre (the University was founded in 1413) all contributed to the expansion of St Andrews during the middle ages. Development took place along four parallel main streets – South Street, Market Street, North Street and Swallowgait (now known as The Scores), and strategically-located ‘ports’ (gates) controlled the movement of goods and people. The West Port at the end of St Andrews’ South Street is Scotland’s best surviving example of a fortified gate.
The 16th Century was the most turbulent period in the history of St Andrews. The (Catholic) Archbishop of St Andrews, Cardinal David Beaton, was the leader of the anti-Protestant movement within the Scottish church and orchestrated the trials and executions of several ‘heretics’. Before long, Beaton too was dead – victim of an assassination in this volatile atmosphere. In 1559, the Calvinist John Knox preached a fiery sermon in Holy Trinity Church which reputedly sparked off a riot amongst the congregation. St Andrews Cathedral was sacked by Knox’s followers, and this effectively signalled the start of the Scottish Reformation and the end of the town’s religious influence.
St Andrews is scattered with reminders of these bloody times. Martyrs’ Monument, on The Scores, commemorates the Protestant reformers who died, and markings on street cobblestones indicate where executions took place. Look out for those of Patrick Hamilton outside St Salvator’s Quad, and George Wishart just outside St Andrews Castle.
St Andrews fell into a long period of decline, only reviving in the 19th Century, when new streets were built, the railway arrived, and the town became known as a holiday destination, renowned for its golf and bracing sea air. Since then, it has never looked back, with considerable population growth and University expansion taking place during the late 20th Century. However, the original medieval street layout has been retained to this day, contributing immensely to the character of St Andrews. Over the last few centuries, residential developments have stretched St Andrews’ boundaries to the south and west but the historic core remains much as it would have looked four hundred years ago. Today’s residents guard the St Andrews’ past jealously, and they are proud to call themselves St Andreans.