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.
It's sunny here now, but rain is forecast - much needed for the dry gardens and fields. So what weather will we have for the next weeks? And what has that got to do with St Swithun, whose day is today? And who was he anyway?
In the UK, in 7-8 out of 10 years the weather pattern prevailing around the first half of July tends to persist for the following few weeks. This has to do with the way our weather is controlled by the jet stream and doesn't have much to do with Swithun, Bishop of Winchester, although he had wanted to be buried where rainwater from the Minster eaves would fall on his grave.
A century after his burial Swithun's body was moved from his chosen resting place in the old Saxon Minster churchyard into a reliquary in the Norman Cathedral. Legend has it that the day of the move (15 July 971) was delayed due to incessant July rain that lasted 40 days. Later his bones were moved again into an elaborate shrine in Winchester Cathedral which became a place of pilgrimage, often by people seeking healing. This shrine was destroyed in a night raid by King Henry VIII's commissioners in 1538.
As Bishop of Winchester for 10 years in the mid 9th century, Swithun was a builder of new churches and a repairer of old ones in his diocese. Winchester was his birth place and he was counsellor to the Saxon kings Egbert and Ethelwulf. Apart from that not much is known about him, though there are many legends. The legend I like best is of a poor woman jostled in the crowd as she crossed a bridge causing her to drop and break the eggs in her basket. Out of his compassion Swithun made her broken eggs whole. You can read more brief information about him in a page provided by Winchester Cathedral.
by whose grace we celebrate again
the feast of your servant Swithun:
grant that, as he governed with gentleness
the people committed to his care,
so we, rejoicing in our Christian inheritance,
may always seek to build up your Church in unity and love;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Collect for Lesser Festival of Swithun, Bishop of Winchester from Common Worship Daily Prayer