St. Swiffen – Pray for Us!


My father kept a daily journal for over 20 years that was primarily written to record the weather. Dad would note what kind of day it is/was. What was the high temperature, the low, was it raining, sunny, rain-drizzle-and-fog, snowfall accumulations, rainfall accumulations, etc. Dad enjoyed weather watching. He often was very good at forecasting it too.  Along with the weather Dad would often make a note about something that was happening in the family that day – Could have been either one of us. One of the gifts for which I am grateful is an email each morning from my brother Darryl who has been so kindly compiling and sending us Dad’s thoughts. So this morning I read all of what Dad wrote about July 15 from 1992 to 2009. I learned that on this day in 1999 while vacationing in Whiteway, I took a trip to St. John’s – a simple note made in his book – “Kevin and Catherinanne were in St. John’s today.” Nothing earth shattering in that, but somehow I get comfort from reading a sentence that my father wrote sixteen years ago.  He also noted the larger events. For instance on this day 2006 “Vivian (My Mom and Clara (My sister-in-law) went to Carbonear hospital last night. Angie (Clara’s daughter – my niece) had a baby girl – 8 pounds 10 ounces!” Happy Birthday Samantha! He recorded a host of interesting things.

But it was another entry that jumped out at me today that has me writing. Dad’s entry for 1998 reads:

Skies cloudy with some fog around.  Light southwest winds.  Temperature +12 in morning, going to +22 in evening.
 I was trouting today in on Glover Road to the Round Pond Brook.  I got my quota. St. Swiffen’s Day.

What leapt out at me was the reference to St Swithun (pronounced Swīþhūn). Not one to reference the saints on a regular basis, I thought Dad must have had a reason more particular to him to reference this. So in my ignorance, I looked up St. Swithun. Who was he and what was he about and why did Dad note that his feast day is today?

On the high authority of Wikipedia I learned these things about Swithun:

  • He was a 9th Century Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Winchester.
  • He was knownfor his piety and his zeal in building new churches or restoring old ones
  • When he gave a banquet he invited the poor and not the rich
  • His best known miracle was his restoration on a bridge of a basket of eggs that workmen had maliciously broken.
  • On his death bed he 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.
  • He was moved from his grave to an indoor shrine in the Old Minster at Winchester in 971
  • There are parts of Swithun in churches across Europe.
  • He is regarded as one of the saints to whom one should pray in the event of drought.

Then I found pay-dirt:
The name of Swithun is best known today for a British weather lore proverb, which says that if it rains on Saint 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

Stavanger_Domkirke_-_StSvithun

Statue of Saint Swithun in the Stavanger Cathedral

Dad was aware of the good saint no doubt because of the legend that the weather on his feast day could be a predictor of the weather for over a month ahead. It’s a bit of a religious ground-hog day if you will. These days were days to note for dad. If March came in like a lion it was to go out like a lamb. The ground-hog’s response to the weather also interested Dad.  After St. Patrick’s in  March we would hear about Shelia’s Brush. Legend has it that she would brush away what was left of the winter season – so the last good snowfall after March 17 would be known as Shelia’s brush. Who is Shelia you ask? I have no idea – but I understand she was somehow connected to Patrick… let your imagination go wild!

Back to St. Swithun – According to The Mirror today, it is going to rain in places in Britain today and they are unconcerned about the long-term implications of that.

 “…the bad news for the superstitious is that there is a chance of patchy rain for St Swithun’s Day today, which, according to folklore, means wet weather will continue for a further 40 days. On Wednesday the bulk of England and Wales are likely to remain dry and enjoy some sunny spells, but parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland are likely to see some rain. According to the Met Office:
“The history says St Swithun was a monk who died in 862 AD. According to his own request, he was buried in the churchyard of the Old Minster (cathedral) at Winchester in a spot where ‘the sweet rain from heaven might wet his grave’.
“More than a century later he was canonised and his remains were moved inside the cathedral on 15 July. It was said that his spirit was so outraged that it rained for the next 40 days.
“While the story is compelling, it’s not entirely backed up by historical records and, similarly, when it comes to the weather folklore it’s not backed up by weather statistics.
“Numerous studies have been carried out on past weather observations and none of them have proved the legend true. In fact, since the start of records in 1861, there have neither been 40 dry or 40 wet days following the corresponding weather on St Swithun’s Day.”

Well – leave it to The Daily Mirror to rain on my St. Swithun’s Day Parade. I will stick with Dad’s willingness to enter into the legend of Swithun. Now if you’ll excuse me… I have to go look up today’s forecast.

To offer your response to this blog please click “Leave a Comment” near the top of this post 

On a more serious note…

I will also invoke St Swithun to pray with us for an end to the droughts in Northern parts of our country right now. We pray together for the people of Yukon and Northern BC where forest fires are raging. We pray for the safety of the firefighters there and for all whose lives and property are endangered.

15 thoughts on “St. Swiffen – Pray for Us!

  1. Hi, Kevin, My mother always said that Sheila was St. Patrick’s housekeeper. I think she heard that from her mother. Mom’s great-grandmother came from Ireland. Katherine

    • Thanks Katherine
      I have read that too…. As well as mistress, wife….. On and on it goes…. Either way she had a mighty big brush if it could be used to sweep away a NL winter.

  2. Hi Kevin! Funny enough but
    Rain has been on my mind in the last few days! Woke up this morning wondering if we would finally have some rain today…then I read your blog:). There has been rain over us to the north and under to the south but near a drop here. The large birch tree in the backyard looks more seasonal to September, having showered my yard with yellow leaves. (When I planted that tree as a small sapling several years ago, I blessed it with the name of my aunt whom I had never met as she died as an infant but somehow I thought she should have a presence in my garden and it has grown to an absolutely beautiful, huge tree!) Anyway, we could sure use the blessings of St. Swithun here.

    Also, please pray that he would allow the showers of compassion and grace to fall on the poor children fleeing the violence and poverty of South America and hoping to find sanctuary and shelter here in us. We need a rational but compassionate response to this humanitarian crisis!

    Miss you all, in love

    Maret

    • Thank you Maret
      We miss you here as well.
      Indeed prayers are being offered for those children and for a caring and compassionate response to their real need for protection.

      What name did you give that tree …..?

      • I named it Sinikka, that was her name. She died when just a few months old from what they used to call “summer complaint”.

  3. As a Brit – I definitely remember the 40 day tale of St Swithun. My Dad also journaled the weather. He always said when a North West wind blew the sky would clear.I often ignore the unreliable weather forecasters and go out and check the wind and the North West theory always holds true!

    • Thanks Chris for responding and sharing about your dad
      I think the old timers had a real gift …. A connection to creation that we have lost as we have become busy being connected to the World Wide Web.
      They saw people, and they saw skies, and trees and moons and …well you get the idea. I think it’s becoming harder for us to interact with our lived environment when our heads are cast down to a phone or tablet….

  4. I really enjoyed this very interesting info, Kevin. My Mom was from Manchester England (which by the way, is where we were exactly one year ago today looking up where she lived and the church where she married my dad on June 7,1944) and I now recall she used to say that little poem to us. She was an exceptionally devout Anglican!

    On another note, however, I do wish July 15 hadn’t been a Tuesday this year….Tuesday is my golf league day. I have managed 2 complete games since the middle of May….the rest of the Tuesdays there has been rain. Today looked good until it poured buckets about 3:20 p.m. here in the west end and right now, it looks like it wants to do it again! So….St. Swithun strikes again!

    • Thank you for your response.
      Must have been wonderful being in Manchester last year at this time… did it rain there?
      We got a decent downpour here in the west end didn’t we?
      That does not bode well for us….
      Better luck with your golf days …

  5. Pam says . I remember the story well my father used to log on the weather to he was from farming people and he would look at the sky and say we are in for it today . All the older people used to say as well about the 40 days as kids we used to think oh no we would not be able to play outside . I also have a book that was my dads with weather and also his thoughts of family things . your Dad was a grand man Kevin was my honor to have known him

  6. I am delighted by the poetry of your father’s words “skies cloudy with some fog around. Light southwest winds …” – an gentle echo of his voice ………

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