St. Swithun's Day - 15th July
Featured in the July 2009 handbook.
“St Swithun’s day, if thou dost rain,
For forty days it will remain;
St. Swithun’s day, if thou be fair,
For forty days twill rain na mair.”
St Swithun's Day falls on 15th July and this poem, or the gist of it, has been well known since Elizabethan times. St Swithun, sometimes spelled Swithin, was born around 800 AD, and became a monk, then Prior of the Winchester monastery before being made Bishop of Winchester in 852 AD. He is now also the Patron Saint of the city.
Known for his kindness and piety he was much ioved by his flock and whenever he gave an official banquet, he would invite the poor, rather than the rich. He accomplished a number of good works, with records of that era revealing he built many new churches and repaired and restored old ones. He was also a tutor to King Aethelwulf of Wessex and his son Alfred, who later became one of the most celebrated Kings of Britain, Alfred the Great, so Swithun was obviously a very well respected and learned man. Swithun also built a bridge on the east side of Winchester where one of his miracles is said to have taken place. Apparently he restored a basket of eggs belonging to an old woman which had been broken by the workmen.
Before his death, Swithun requested that he be buried in a humble grave outside the old cathedral, under the "rain of heaven", where his grave would also be walked upon. So
when he died on 2nd July 862 he was buried under the church pathway according to his wishes, much to the disgust of the clergy, who thought the Bishop should have an exalted tomb within the confines of the Cathedral.
In 971AD, Swithun was canonised and on 15th July of that year the monks of Winchester decided to move his remains to a magnificent shrine inside the cathedral. Legend has it that on this day there was an enormous rainstorm, breaking a long period of dry weather and this heavy rain continued for a further forty days. Naturally, the monks took
this as a sign of 'divine displeasure' and left the body where it was for the time being.
However the myth detailed in the poem has no basis in reality. According to the records kept by the Meteorological Office since 1861, this prediction has been debunked every
single year. There have been just four years where the prediction came close to fruition. In 1983, 1989, 1990 and 1995 St Swithun's Day was dry and fine in southern England, as were the following 38 days.
Maybe 2009 will prove to be the one year where the poem works, hopefully for the good weather rather than the bad!