St Andrews Traditions: Part 4 the PH

Carley St Andrews Traditons

Seeing as we’re now (sigh) almost out of September and into October, I thought that this would be a good time to write a few more of my posts about my favourite little town – St Andrews. This year the University of St Andrews has instigated a number of changes within the way the university runs – including changing when exams are, and whether there’s a reading week and when term starts – but some things stay the same. One of those things is that if a St Andrews student steps on the PH outside St Salvatores Quad, then, well – they’re going to fail their degree.

One of the best known traditions / curses in the town, it’s amazing to stand outside the quad and watch as chattering students stroll out of class and wander down the pavement, only to get to a certain point and lurch to one side or the other, purposely steering clear of the small motif which is laid into the cobbles on the floor. It’s almost as if they’re parted by some force which ensures that they keep a certain distance from the PH stones – but the squeal of a student who accidentally does step on top of the stones proves otherwise.

The PH (initials of Patrick Hamilton) outside St Salvador's (Sallies) Chapel on North Street, St Andrews, Scotland

The story of the PH runs as follows; in 1528, Patrick Hamilton, a scholar and theologian of the University of St Andrews was tried as a heretic; he was found guilty. His punishment was to be burnt at the stake outside of St Salvador’s Chapel, making him the first Protestant martyr of the Scottish Reformation. The initials, which are set into the cobbles directly outside the main access point to the St Salvador’s (Sallies) Quad, mark the spot when he was killed.

Me, just about to stand on the PH in St Andrews, outside St Salvator's (Sallies) Chapel
Me, about to stand on the PH after graduating!

The tradition definitely tells St Andrews students not to step on the PH initials, and the consequence was always pretty definite too – step on the PH and you’ll fail your degree – although no one seems entirely clear where this cause-and-effect relationship comes from! However, you will find that a large number of students who do the May Dip each year are doing so because it’s the only way to lift the curse of standing on the PH – and once graduated, it’s entirely unusual to see ex-students purposefully jumping 0n the stones in celebration of having finished.

Standing on the PH is just one way of being cursed in St Andrews – other ways include wearing your gown incorrectly, committing academic incest (no, seriously!) or mucking up the Latin on the Raisin Receipt you give to your academic kids on Raisin Weekend – but it’s okay! All sins can be washed away by the freezing water of the May Dip!


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