Ward's Book of Days.
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What happened on this day in history.
On this day in history in 971, St Swithun was reburied in Winchester Cathedral causing a storm which lasted for 40 days.
Saint Swithun was Bishop of Winchester from 852 to 862. He was noted for his piety, for his enthusiasm for building new churches, and his attention to the needs of the poor. Swithun persuaded king Ethelwulf to dedicate a tenth part of his royal lands to the care of the church for the upkeep of the church fabric and for the needs of the poor. Despite having been granted these lands, Swithun refused to live in great style. He made all his diocesan visitations on foot, and on feast days, his guest list comprised the poor of his diocese, rather than the rich landowners. He died on 2nd July 862, and in accordance with his wishes was buried outside the church, ‘where the sweet rain of heaven and the steps of the people’ would fall on his grave.
On 15th July 971, his body was transferred into the cathedral, into a purpose-built shrine in his honour. However, the saint indicated his displeasure at the repositioning of his remains, and caused a great downpour to fall from the heavens. The storm continued for forty days, after which the church authorities got the message and returned his body to the original gravesite, upon which the rainfall ceased abruptly.
From that time the legend arose that if it rains on St Swithun’s Day, then it will rain for 40 subsequent days, and that if St Swithun’s Day is fine, then we can expect good weather for the next 40 days.
An old rhyme states:
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.
Predictably, Swithun is considered the patron saint for the alleviation of drought!
Campbell, James. The Anglo-Saxons. (Penguin History) (Paperback)
Blair, John. The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society. (Paperback)
Stenton, F M. Anglo-Saxon England. (Oxford History of England) (Paperback)
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