On the 29th of February 1528, 24 year old Patrick Hamilton died and entered St Andrew’s folklore. For on that day he was burned alive for his Protestant beliefs and generations of St Andrew’s University students have avoided the location of his martyrdom ever since.
On the pavement set into the cobblers inconveniently in front of the college chapel and entrance are the letters PH. To many it might be missed but to the students of the University and especially this college it is greatly avoided. For stepping on it could either result in failing your exam or losing your entire degree!
Jumping the curse
Whilst I was there a student was making a beeline to the pavement and at the point of the PH made a side step and continued I asked them why:
“Well I don’t want to tempt fate I have finals this year!”
“Better safe than sorry I think. Knw sm1 who stepped on it n didn’t pass. Superstitious or not just avoid it, it’s just one tiny spot.”
“As an undergraduate I never dared to step on the initials!”
Although Abdulmalik Ismaila@AbdulTaibah boldly stated;
“I stepped on it several times and I still passed my degree.”
But why the curse?
It is said that the fire burned for six hours and in this time Patrick Hamilton unleashed a curse to any future student who would step on the place he burned. It is thought the initials were placed both to mark the martyrdom and make it clear where not to step!
Lifting the curse
It was evident that the custom was very much believed. However, there is a way of reversing the curse fortunately for someone who might inadvertently step on the PH . It can be removed by running into the sea on May Day near naked at dawn or running around Sailles Quad eight times. The St Andrew website wryly observes that:
“While May Dip remains an extremely popular tradition among students, I have yet to witness or hear of someone attempting the latter.”
The number of those in the waters on May Day must suggest that plenty of students must step on it – or they are crazy enough to enter the icy cold waters of the North Sea – you decide.
Once you got your degree of course you were free of the curse’s power and it is said that another tradition exists of upon receiving the degree you would immediately walk past sallies quad with the paper in hand before stepping on it.
I’ve got a degree but one day I may need one from St. Andrews so thought I’d better not risk it!