Thursday, 15 July 2010

Saint Swithin's Day

                     The site of St Swithin's Shrine in Winchester Cathedral

Here's something for the meteorologically superstitious.
I know most of us will be celebrating St Bonaventure in the liturgy today, but this is also traditionally, in England,  the feast day of St Swithin, the ninth century bishop of Winchester. This is from the 'Golden Legend' (online here) :

"by his holy living he caused the people to live virtuously, and to pay their tithes to God and holy church. And if any church fell down, or was in decay, Saint Swithin would anon amend it at his own cost. Or if any church were not hallowed, he would go thither afoot and hallow it. For he loved no pride, ne to ride on gay horses, ne to be praised ne flattered of the people, which in these days such things be used over much."
St Swithin died on 2 July 862, but on 15th  July 971 his remains were exhumed and moved to a shrine inside the cathedral. St Swithin's feast day is, then, the date, not of his death but of the transfer of his remains.
All kinds of miraculous cures were associated with the event; but popular legend says that at the time of his body's removal there was a great thunderstorm and it rained heavily for forty days and forty nights.
This gave rise to the following piece of traditional weather lore:

 St Swithin’s Day, if it does rain
Full forty days, it will remain
St Swithin’s Day, if it be fair
For forty days, t’will rain no more.

But according to the British Meteorological Office (spoilsports!),  there is little substance in the rhyme's assertion. I suppose British pessimism about our weather just makes it feel like that.
But happy St Swithin's day! It's raining, of course (or does it just have to rain in Winchester for the rhyme to come true?) - this is a British July after all.
Despite the Met Office, I'll keep an umbrella handy for the rest of the summer.

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