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University of St Andrews

The founding of the University occurred during the great schism in the Catholic Church, when there were rival claimants to the Church leadership. Scotland recognised the Avignon Pope, Benedict XIII. It was therefore from him that the authorities in St Andrews sought approval. France, however, had turned against Benedict, forcing him to flee Avignon and take up exile in Peniscola in Aragon. Hence the papal bulls, the founding documents of the University, six in total, issued in 1413, arrived in St Andrews from Spain early the following year.

Papal bull from 1413

Being the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland, St Andrews experienced the full force of the Reformation with the sacking of the cathedral in 1559, instigated by the fiery preaching of the reformer John Knox. Inspiration for reform came to Scotland from figures such as Martin Luther in Germany and John Calvin in Switzerland. The University adjusted to the new circumstances and, by the end of the 16th century, itself became a centre of protestant theology, attracting scholars from many parts of Europe including the Low Countries, Germany and Scandinavia.

St Salvator’s quadrangle

After a period of decline, the fortunes of the University began to improve at the end of the 19th century. Growth continued in the 20th century and, in recent years, St Andrews has become one of the most international universities in the United Kingdom. Extensive links with North America have been supplemented by an influx of students and staff mainly from elsewhere in Europe but also from across the world. In 2020, over 130 different nationalities were represented in the University, numerous among them being students from other parts of Europe, many benefitting from the Erasmus+ European Union educational exchange scheme. (However, following the departure from the European Union, the United Kingdom is no longer participating in these arrangements.)

In 2016 the University took an important step towards becoming carbon neutral for energy usage by inaugurating a biomass heating plant in nearby Guardbridge. Hot water, produced with sustainable natural fuels, is pumped four miles underground to heat University buildings. The project was financed with the aid of a joint Scottish Government and European Union initiative.

On leaving the quadrangle walk down Butts Wynd, then turn right into The Scores towards the castle. (If access to the quadrangle is closed, it may be viewed through a gate in Butts Wynd.) To your left along The Scores you will pass the University of St Andrews Wardlaw Museum. The one surviving founding papal bull issued by Benedict XIII is occasionally on display. (Admission to the museum is free.)


Papal bull image © University of St Andrews, CC BY-NC 4.0, courtesy University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: UY100
St Salvator’s quadrangle image © University of St Andrews