From the Rectory
July 2010

A Summer Saint - Saint Swithun: July 15th.

Saint Swithun is very much a local saint. He lived in the ninth century, when England was divided into seven different kingdoms. He was a close friend and counsellor of the Saxon King of Wessex, King Egbert, and in the year 852 was made Bishop of Winchester. A gentle and humble man, St. Swithun made it clear that he wished, when he died, not to be buried inside the church but somewhere in the graveyard - ideally by the gate where people would walk over his grave. So when he died in 862 these wishes were remembered and a simple gravestone was erected where his body was laid to rest. For a hundred years people hurrying to Mass walked over the burial place of their bishop.

Then the local people started to talk about it: surely it was wrong that a man of such saintly life and such influence - a man who was honoured by the king and yet remained approachable and friendly to all - should have so humble a place of rest? It was felt that it was a scandal, and so a magnificent shrine was prepared for the body within the new Winchester Abbey, and plans were made for a ceremony in which the old grave would be opened up and the bones taken to the new shrine. The date was fixed: July 15th.

The day’s ceremonies had scarcely got under way when a great torrent of rain poured down on everyone, sending the monks scampering for cover. The ceremonies had to be postponed. The rain and stormy weather continued for a full forty days. And people began to nod to one another and say - just the way that people would say…‘Ah, well, that’s what you’d expect, isn’t it?’ The holy Bishop didn’t approve of people interfering with his wishes…’ Eventually, the removal did, however, take place and St. Swithuns remains are still to this day in a magnificent shrine in a prominent place in Winchester Cathedral. The site of his original, outdoor grave is marked by a modern plaque.

Thus began the tradition that if it rains on St. Swithun’s Day it will go on raining for forty days, and if it is sunny then forty days of sunshine will follow. Farmers and holiday makers still comment on the weather on July 15th. (Do any of you ever remember 40 days without rain in the Summer? It would be classified a national tragedy and all of our hosepipes would be confiscated.) St. Swithun is a sort of home-made saint, the official Church calendar doesn’t list his feast-day, although he is remembered in the Winchester Diocesan Intercessions leaflet.

Saint Swithun’s Day, if thou dost rain,
For forty days in will remain:
Saint Swithun’s Day, if thou be fair,
For forty days t’will rain no more.

Who could name perhaps someone worthy of such veneration in our time?

Yours for Christ's sake.