Page 14, 15th July 2005

15th July 2005
Page 14
Page 14, 15th July 2005 — Saint of the week

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Saint of the week

St Swithun (July 15)

St Swithun (died 862) is now known chiefly for the superstition that, if it rains on his feast day, it will rain for 40 days thereafter; and conversely, that a dry July 15 will bring 40 fine days. This tradition appears in Ben Jonson’s Every Man Out Of His Humour (1598) and may be connected with the heavy rainfall on July 15, 973, when Swithun’s remains were being transferred into Winchester Cathedral.

Very little is certainly known about his life. It seems that he served as chaplain to King Egbert of Wessex, and was entrusted with the education of the king’s son Ethelwulf. When Ethelwulf succeeded in 839, Swithun became one of his chief counsellors, specialising in ecclesiastical matters. He was appointed Bishop of Winchester in 852.

By tradition Swithun was a keen builder, responsible for a stone bridge across the Itchen at the eastern gate of Winchester. The story goes that he restored a basketful of eggs which had been broken when a woman was crossing this bridge.

Swithun asked to be buried outside his church, where his grave would be trodden by passers-by and – another possible source of his meteorological reputation – watered by raindrops falling from the eaves.

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