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St Swithin is remembered in a traditional rhyme

Posted in Architecture, Customs, Historical articles, History, Religion, Royalty, Saints on Monday, 29 April 2013

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This edited article about St Swithin originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 235 published on 16 July 1966.

Winchester Cathedral, picture, image, illustration

Winchester Cathedral, from the North West. by Alfred Robert Quinton

If we remember St. Swithin at all, it is on July 15, for according to the old rhyme: –

Saint Swithin’s day, if thou dost rain,
For forty days it will remain;
Saint Swithin’s day, if thou be fair,
For forty days ’twill rain no mair.

But Saint Swithin was more than just a rainy saint of legend. He was a great church administrator.

Born towards the close of the eighth century, he entered Winchester monastery as a monk and eventually became Abbot and Bishop of Winchester.

While he was Bishop of Winchester, St. Swithin persuaded the king to pass a law transferring to the church a tithe or tenth of the produce of the royal estates. Gradually, the payment of tithes became compulsory on all estates throughout the kingdom.

According to legend, St. Swithin’s association with wet weather dates from the rebuilding of Winchester cathedral by William the Conqueror.

When St. Swithin died in 862 he had been buried at his own wish in a humble grave outside the cathedral walls. William the Conqueror decided, however, that the saint should be reburied in a magnificent tomb inside the cathedral.

On July 15, 1077, the work of reburial began. Hardly had a spade been stuck into the soil of the old grave than a blinding rainstorm caused all to run for shelter.

The rain continued for forty days, and the reburial had to be abandoned. The rain was taken as a sign that St. Swithin did not want the fine tomb built for him. So the Saint was left in his humble grave, and a chapel was erected over it.

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