A standing joke worldwide is the English preoccupation with the weather. So how did it come to pass that the English summer should be determined by a long dead Anglo-Saxon Bishop?

St Swithin’s Day is the feast day of a ninth century Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Winchester who died in 862 AD.

Swithin has also been suggested as the tutor of Alfred, which would fit chronologically at least, since Alfred was born in 849 AD. Alfred then went on to become the mighty ruler of Wessex and the only English monarch to date to be bestowed with the title ‘the Great’, so a good job well done by Swithin you could say!

However, whilst Swithin was a popular bishop, his only known miracle during his lifetime was the repair of a basket of broken eggs, dropped by a flustered lady of his parish on unexpectedly encountering the bishop.

With his dying breath Swithin is said to have requested that his final resting place be outside, where his grave could easily be reached by both members of the parish and the rainfall from the heavens. Swithin’s wishes were met for over 100 years.

But reform decided in 971 that Swithin was to be the patron saint of the restored Cathedral at Winchester so an impressive shrine was built for him inside the building.

According to legend, forty days of terrible weather followed, suggesting St Swithin was none too happy with the new arrangements! Ever since, it has been said that the weather on 15 July supposedly determines the weather for the next forty days, as noted in the popular Elizabethan verse:

“St Swithin’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithin’s day if thou be fair
For forty days will rain na mair”

There is of course little proof to support the superstition and the Met. Office has recorded data across a number of years which disproves it.

Whatever you choose to believe, it certainly makes for an interesting theory; that a ninth century saint can influence the changeable British weather!

Let’s remember him as a man greatly valued in his time, whose legacy of holiness has endured. His name lives on in dedications across Europe.

[Janet Lawrence]