St Swithin – the saint of weather forecasting?

St Swithin's Day rhyme. Image copyright Ireland Calling

St Swithin is not an Irish saint but he is well known in Ireland because of the folklore associated with his name. According to legend, if it rains on St. Swithin’s Day on 15 July, it will rain for the next forty days. But if the weather is fine – the next forty days will be fine.St Swithins Day rhyme. If thou dost rain. Image copyright Ireland Calling

This rhyme has been said for hundreds of years in Ireland and Britain. dost = does, thou = you, nae mair = no more

Who was St. Swithin?

St Swithin. Photo copyright Nina Aldin Thune CC2.5St. Swithin (or Swithun) was the Bishop of Winchester in England in the 9th century between 852 and 862. He was known for building churches and restoring old ones. He preferred to travel on foot.
When he hosted banquets he would invite the poor peasants, rather than the rich.
Just before he died in 862, he asked to be buried outside the Winchester Cathedral, so the rain would fall on his grave and the people of Winchester would walk above him. He wished to be buried as an ordinary man in the graveyard and not a fine tomb. His wishes were granted.
However, nine years later on 15 July 971, Bishop Ethelwold and his monks moved Swithin’s remains to a new shrine, ordered by King Edgar, inside Winchester Cathedral. A great storm was said to have developed during the moving of his body and it continued to rain for 40 days.
The forty days of rain were said to be due to offending St Swithin by moving him away from the ordinary people, and his curse was forty continuous days of rain.
This led to the legend that if it rains on St Swithin’s Day it will rain for the next 40 days in succession, and a fine 15th July will be followed by 40 days of fine weather.

Is the St Swithin’s Day prophecy accurate?

Sadly for those who like the romance of such folklore, there is no evidence to back up the prophecy.
Not surprisingly perhaps, weather offices across the world don’t take it seriously and have not released any detailed figures.
However, the Meteorological Office in the UK has provided some statistics. It looked at the weather on 55 occasions when it has rained on St Swithin’s Day – on each occasion 40 days of rain did not follow (source: book entitled ‘Red Sky At Night’).
Nevertheless, the legend remains popular and even if no one takes it seriously, it usually gets an airing every on St Swithin’s Day every year.

And if any church fell down, or was in decay, St Swithin would anonymously repair it at his own cost. Or if any church were not hallowed, he would go thither afoot and hallow it. For he loved no pride, ne to ride on gay horses, ne to be praised ne flattered of the people…
The Golden Legend (medieval book of saints’ stories)

Christening the apples

An old saying;

When it rains on 15 July. Photo copyright Glysiak CC2.5-
Apple growers used to ask St. Swithin for his blessing each year because they believed that:

Rain on St. Swithin’s day
Blesses and christens the apples.

Other folklore sayings are:

‘No apple should picked or eaten before July 15th.’

~ ~ ~

‘Apples still growing at St Swithin’s day will ripen fully and be full of flavour.’

There is an alternative saying from Buckinghamshire

If on St Swithun’s day it really pours
You’re better off to stay indoors.


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