Feast day 15th July

"If it rains on St. Swithuns day it will rain for the next forty." So goes the best known legend that is associated with Swithun - or Swithin as he is also named. Although his cult was popular very little is known of his life. Born in Saxon Wessex and educated at the Old Minster, Winchester, he was chosen by Egbert, king of Wessex 802-39, as his chaplain. He was also entrusted with the education of Ethelwulf, who succeeded to the throne in 839.

Ethelwulf chose him in 852 as bishop of Winchester, the Wessex capital. During his ten years episcopate Wessex consolidated its position as the most important kingdom of England and faced the first sporadic, but ominous raids by Vikings in the south of the country.

Swithun was famous for his charitable giving and for his activity in building churches. He died on July 2nd, 862 and asked to be buried in the cemetery outside the west door of the Old Minster.

In 964 Ethelwold became bishop of Winchester and introduced monks to form the first monastic cathedral chapter in England. He decided to tranfer Swithuns relics into the cathedral, this was accomplished on July 15th 971. The occasion was marked by many cures claimed as miraculous, which accounted for Swithuns high reputation as a healer and also by heavy rainfall, believed to be another manifestation of his power, which perhaps explains the legend at the beginning of this article.

Swithuns shrine remained as a goal for pilgrims up to the reformation when it was demolished, but was restored by the cathedral authorities as recently as 1962. There are fifty-eight ancient dedications to Swithun in England and a few in Scandinavia, a fine tribute to a truly Godly

John Hayward

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