SAINT SWITHUN

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Swithun, the Patron Saint of Winchester Cathedral (and weather!) lived from roughly 800 AD to 863 AD. He was Bishop from his consecration on 30 October 852 until his death on 2 July 863. 

 

Swithun served in the royal household and became an important advisor to the king. He became the seventeenth Bishop of Winchester, in 852, and was famous for rebuilding Winchester’s East Gate bridge. 

Swithun died in 862 and was buried in a simple grave outside the west door of the Saxon cathedral. On his deathbed, Swithun 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. Popularity made sure that Swithun became a saint, although there was no decree from Rome.

More than a hundred years later, when Dunstan and Æthelwold of Winchester were inaugurating their church reform, Swithun was adopted as patron of the restored church at Winchester, formerly dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul. His body was transferred from its almost forgotten grave to Æthelwold's new basilica on 15 July 971; according to contemporary writers, numerous miracles preceded and followed the move.

When Bishop Swithun’s body was moved, his bones were dug up and placed them in a precious reliquary inside the building, given by the King – an act later seen as against the saint’s wishes. According to contemporary writers, numerous miracles preceded and followed the move. Pilgrims began to pay homage to the saint in increasing numbers, even after his remains, were transferred from the Saxon to the Norman cathedral in 1093. His Anglo-Saxon reliquary was carried with great ceremony to its new position behind the high altar, where it stayed until 1450. In 1476 it was moved to the chantry until it was finally destroyed in the reformation in 1576. 

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St Swithun's Shrine in Canterbury Cathedral

Legends of the Saint

One legend claims that Swithun tutored the young Alfred the Great. Another says is that he built the first stone bridge over the River Itchen that runs through Winchester. His most famous miracle tells of a simple act of human kindness to a poor woman. When crossing the bridge, she was jostled and dropped her basket of eggs. The saint took pity on her – and made her broken eggs whole. 

And then there's the rain

The name of Swithun is best known today for the weather lore proverb, which says that if it rains on St. Swithun's day, 15 July, it will rain for 40 days.

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 nae mare. 

If you're planning to undertake a walk, take heed!

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