St. Swithin

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Continuing the series on monastic saints, compiled by Jason John Edwards, Obl.S.B.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Bishop of Winchester; died 2 July, 862.

Very little is known of this saint’s life, for his biographers constructed their “Lives” long after his death, and there is hardly any mention of him in contemporary documents.

Swithin was one of the two trusted counsellors of Egbert, King of the West Saxons (d. 839), helping him in ecclesiastical matters, while Ealstan of Sherborne was his chief advisor.  Egbert probably entrusted Swithin with the education of his son Ethelwulf and caused the saint to be elected to the Bishopric of Winchester in succession to Helmstan. His consecration by Ceolnoth, Archbishop of Canterbury, seems to have taken place on 30 October 852.

On his deathbed Swithin begged that he should be buried outside the north wall of his cathedral where passers-by should pass over his grave and raindrops from the eaves drop upon it.

More than a century later (931) his body was translated with great pomp to a shrine within the new church erected by Bishop Ethelwulf (d.984). A number of miraculous cures took place, and Swithin was canonized by popular acclamation. In 1093 his remains were again translated to the new church built by Bishop Walkelin. The shrine was destroyed and the relics scattered in 1538.

It has often been said that the saint was a Benedictine monk and even Prior of Winchester, but there is no evidence for this statement. From the first translation of his relics in 984 till the destruction of the shrine, St. Swithin was the patron of Winchester Cathedral. He is best known from the popular superstition attached to his name and expressed in the following rhyme:

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 ’twill rain nae mair.

There have been many attempts to explain the origin of this belief, but none have proved generally satisfactory. A similar belief attaches in France to 8 June, the feast of Sts. Gervasius and Protasius, and to other feasts in different countries (see Notes and Queries, 1885, XII, 137, 253). St. Swithin’s feast is kept on 15 July, the date of his first translation, and is retained in the Anglican Calendar.

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