Tuesday, July 15, 2008

St. Swithun’s Day

Garden Day, 2003

Above: A rainy Garden Day at The Cloisters, 2003. Visitors to Bonnefont Herb Garden were undaunted by the downpour.

Today, July 15, is the feast of St. Swithun, or Swithin; of all the saints’ days traditionally used as weather prognosticators, St. Swithun’s is the most famous and the most long-lived:

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.

Swithun was consecrated bishop of Winchester in 852 and died in 862. His feast is celebrated not on the the day of his death on July 2, but on the anniversary of the translation of his relics from the churchyard outside the Old Minster at Winchester, where he had asked to be buried, into the church itself. Circa 1125, William of Malmesbury recorded that Swithun, renowned for his charity and humility, had requested that his body be interred where passers-by would tread on him, and where water from the eaves would fall on his grave. This allusion indicates that the saint’s reputation as a weather-prophet was already established by the twelfth century. (Blackburn & Holford-Stevens, The Oxford Companion to the Calendar Year, 1999.) The relics of the saint were translated yet again from the Old Minster to a shrine in the new cathedral church on July 15, 1093.

The Weather Channel’s National and Local Weather website predicts a sunny day in the Northeast and Midwest for St. Swithun’s feast, with only a ten percent chance of precipitation in New York City. Storms and showers are predicted for the South. And in Winchester? The Weather Channel’s U.K. website forecasts clouds, but only a twenty percent chance of rain.

—Deirdre Larkin

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