Wednesday, July 16, 2008

St Swithin's Day

I noticed belatedly that yesterday was St. Swithin's Day. Tradition says that if it rains on his feast day, it will rain for the next forty days:

St Swithin’s Day, if it does rain
Full forty days, it will remain
St Swithin’s Day, if it be fair
For forty days, t'will rain no more.
Yesterday was dry. Is it too much to hope that we are in for a spell of nice summer weather? Tomorrow's forecast is for rain, but I can dream!

Unfortunately, our dry day wasn't matched elsewhere, and according to the Daily Mail the prospects are not good:

'Most places had some rain, drizzle or showers,' said the Met Office's Sarah Holland. While the hard-headed meteorologists at the Met Office would usually have little time for a ninth-century saint, for once their official prediction appears to support the legend.

They are forecasting a long, wet summer. 'We expect it to be a typical British summer with rainfall and temperatures a little bit above average,' added Miss Holland. 'There are no signs of any long, hot spells yet, although the second half of July might be a little warmer and drier.'

This summer's unsettled weather is influenced by La Nina - the cooling of the Pacific. The phenomenon has moved the jet stream - the band of fast-moving air high in the atmosphere - further south than normal, bringing cooler, wet conditions.

Like many pieces of weather folklore, the St Swithin's Day proverb contains seeds of truth. By mid-July, British weather has usually settled down for the summer and rarely swings from one extreme to another.

However, despite searching through 55 years of records, researchers have shown that rainfall on St Swithin's day has never led to 40 days of rain.

So that's all right then!

And who was St. Swithin (or Swithun), the saint behind the legend? This comes from the BBC website:
Saint Swithin was a Saxon bishop. He was born in the kingdom of Wessex and educated in its capital, Winchester. He was famous for charitable gifts and building churches. His emblems are rain drops and apples.

Swithin was chaplain to Egbert, the 802-839 king of Wessex. Egbert's son Ethelwulf, whom Swithin educated, made him bishop of Winchester in 852.

Only one miracle is attributed to Swithin while he was alive. An old lady's eggs had been smashed by workmen building a church. Swithin picked the broken eggs up and, it is said, they miraculously became whole again.

Swithin died on 2 July 862. According to tradition, he had asked to be buried humbly. His grave was just outside the west door of the Old Minster, so that people would walk across it and rain fall on it in accordance with Swithin's wishes.

On 15 July 971, though, Swithin's remains were dug up and moved to a shrine in the cathedral by Bishop Ethelwold. Miraculous cures were associated with the event, and Swithin's feast day is the date of the removal of his remains, not his death day.

However, the removal was also accompanied by ferocious and violent rain storms that lasted 40 days and 40 nights and are said to indicate the saint's displeasure at being moved. This is probably the origin of the legend that if it rains on Saint Swithin's feast day, the rain will continue for 40 more days.

Saint Swithin is still seen as the patron of Winchester Cathedral.

No comments: