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July 15: the weather folklore of St. Swithin’s Day

3 min read

What’s the weather doing outside your window today?
July 15th is St. Swithin’s Day and, according to an ancient tradition, if it rains on this day, it will rain for the next 40 days.
In short, the story began in the year 971, when the bones of St Swithin (who had died over 100 years before) were moved to a special shrine at Winchester Cathedral, and there was a terrific storm that lasted for 40 days.
And People said that the saint in heaven was weeping because his bones had been moved.

Well…but who Was St. Swithin?
Very little is known about him other than from legends. He was a medieval Anglo-Saxon bishop who lived in the 9th century and died as the Bishop of Winchester in 862. He was buried, according to his wishes, outside the walls of the Cathedral, literally “where the rain could fall and comfort him” and “steps of passersby might fall on his grave.”
However, over a century later, on July 15, 971, due to an expansion of the Cathedral, his body was removed and placed inside the cathedral, contrary to his wishes.
According to legend, after his body was moved inside, a terrible storm ensued.
Heavy rain stopped the priests from doing their work. They could not resume until the next day, but yet the rain continued for 40 days.
In addition to his role in this old story, St. Swithin is also one of the saints traditionally prayed to during periods of drought.

He was adopted as the patron saint of Winchester, and in the 12th century the popular doggerel was penned:

“If on St. Swithin’s Day, ye do rain
for forty days, it will remain.
If on St. Swithin’s Day, it be fair
For forty days, t’will rain no more.”

I don’t know is there any truth to it.
Like many folklore sayings, the St. Swithin’s Day legend has been passed down from generations.
And as far as record-keeping goes back, there hasn’t been rain (or sun) for 40 days following the weather on St. Swithin’s Day that historians can locate.
But try to imagine: if the thought of 40 days of rain isn’t likely very appealing to most modern vacationers, chances are, it doesn’t sound too bad to those experiencing drought conditions.

Images from web – Google Research