July/August - Saint Swithun

15th July (862)

A saint for the English summer? Who else could it possibly be but Saint Swithun!

Swithun was Bishop of Winchester, appointed in 852 by King Aethelwulf of the West Saxons, who made him his adviser on ecclesiastical affairs. He gained a reputation for his skill in obtaining revenue and for his financial administration of his diocese. He kept careful records of expenditure and used the money he saved to reconstruct churches which had fallen into decay (note to the Church of England Central Board of Finance - should St Swithun be made your patron saint - if he is not already?) Swithun was famous for the simplicity of his life and his lack of pomp (he travelled by night to avoid display).

A miracle attributed to him in the Golden Legend illustrates his understanding of ordinary folk. A poor woman was pushed in a market-day crowd and dropped her basket of eggs. St Swithun blessed the broken shells and the eggs were made whole again.

He died in 862 and was buried on the north side of Winchester Cathedral. His fame spread during the following century and a large number of churches were dedicated to him. Because of his saintly renown, his body was removed on 15th July 971 to a shrine within Winchester Cathedral. Torrential rain fell and lasted for forty days. Thus the origin of the popular belief that if it rains on his feast day (15th July) the bad weather will persist for forty days, but that if it is fine it will remain fair for the same period.

Angela Newton

St Swithun's Society

We have received a letter from the St Swithun's Society of Ontario, Canada, who came upon our inclusion of their Patron, St Swithun, in the calendar of saints on Claves Regni. The Society was founded in 1974 to "promote feelings of goodwill, to encourage the celebration of St Swithun's Day and to pattern members' lives after the example of our Patron".

St. Swithun's Society will celebrate its 29th anniversary on 15th July 2003. The festivities will include a pot-luck supper, followed by musical entertainments, poetry reading, skits and lucky draws.

St Swithun died in 862 and is numbered among the legion of British Saints "about whom little is known". History records that he was a remarkably holy man who probably tutored Alfred the Great. A Bishop of Winchester, England's ancient capital, Swithun was renowned for his miraculous deeds of a charming, domestic nature. As well as curing lepers and the lame in his Diocese, he is said to have restored a basket of shattered eggs which were a poor widow's only marketable goods. Such was his concern for the less fortunate.

On 15th July 971 the Saint's remains were moved from their original burial site in the grounds to a magnificent shrine inside Winchester's newly constructed Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. Legend says that this humble man was so upset that his body was not allowed to lie where the faithful would pass over it that rains began, lasting forty days and nights. This event is the source of the popular rhyme associated with our Patron:

Saint Swithun's Day, if thou dost rain,
For forty days it will remain.
Saint Swithun's Day, if thou be fair,
For forty days ?twill rain nae mair.

Saint Swithun's Society is inclusive and non-denominational. It enjoys a wonderful cross-section of members in terms of age, religious affiliations, political persuasions and ethnic backgrounds. No doubt this fact, together with the spirit of fun and friendship that always accompanies our events, reflects that well-known image of St. Swithun as "Pontifex" - the bridge builder.

Honourary memberships are presented to those individuals whom we feel best represent the spirit of our Society. Included in that number are philanthropist Ed Mirvish, comedienne Anna Russell, Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, Richmond Hill Liberal columnist Fred Simpson and the popular star of The Young and The Restless, Jeanne Cooper.

The Society also collects used postage stamps and sends them to Andrew Johansson, a disabled former deep-sea diver living in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He sells them and uses the money to supply guide-dogs for people who, like him, are visually impaired. Andrew was made an Honourary Member in 1989.

If you are interested in learning more about our Society or upcoming events and activities, please contact us at the following address:

Saint Swithun's Society
427 Lynett Crescent
Richmond Hill
L4C 2V6

Email: st._swithuns_society at angelfire dot com

St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 12th July 2003