St Swithun’s Day 2020

St Swithun’s shrine in Winchester Cathedral with the side of the canopy depicting rain. The other side has sun rays.

Public worship has returned to Winchester Cathedral in time for St Swithun’s Day on Wednesday 15 July.

Swithun (800-862) often gets a mention in the weather forecast at this time of the summer thanks to the saying:

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.

This derives from the report that a violent storm broke as Swithun’s body was being moved on 15 July 971 from his outdoor grave to a shrine inside the Old Minster which preceded today’s Norman cathedral church.

Before the change in calendar 15 July would have fallen on today’s 26 July so the forty days refers to the possibility of a wet August which is not unknown.

Pilgrims setting out from Winchester would have been able to visit Swithun’s shrine containing his body knowing that at Canterbury they would find his head.

This skull is now in Évreux Cathed­ral in Normandy although not displayed.

Pilgrims starting at London’s Southwark Cathedral can look for the figure of St Swithun in the Great Screen at the east end.

At Winchester Cathedral this year the St Swithun’s Day Eucharist is at 12 noon. Evening Prayer at 5pm will be broadcast on Zoom.

A reconstruction of St Swithun’s shrine before Henry VIII’s reign
St Swithun’s Church at Martyr Worthy in Hampshire seen from the Pilgrims’ Way
St Swithun, second left, on Southwark Cathedral’s Great Screen built 500 years ago this year by order of Bishop Fox of Winchester. St Thomas Becket, holding a sword, is next to Swithun.
A St Swithun rose blooming this year: ‘St Swithun Rose’ was bred in 1993 by David Austin who was also responsible for introducing the red ‘St Thomas À Becket Rose’ introduced at Canterbury in 2013.

The Pilgrims’ Way, out of Winchester and as far as Farnham, is waymarked ‘St Swithun’s Way’ with the pilgrim shell and the croziers of Becket and Swithun.

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