"And if any church fell down, or was in decay, St. Swithin would anon amend 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, a medieval book of saints' stories
Saint Swithin was a Saxon bishop. He was born in the kingdom of Wessex and educated in its capital, Winchester. He was famous for charitable gifts and building churches so topical for us at this time of renovation.
Swithin was chaplain to Egbert, the 802-839 king of Wessex. Egbert's son Ethelwulf, whom Swithin educated, made him bishop of Winchester in 852.
This miracle is attributed to Swithin. An old lady's eggs had been smashed by workmen building a church. Swithin picked the broken eggs up and, it is said, they miraculously became whole again.
Swithin died on 2 July 862. According to tradition, he had asked to be buried humbly. His grave was just outside the west door of the Old Minster, so that people would walk across it and rain fall on it in accordance with Swithin's wishes. On 15 July 971 though, Swithin's remains were dug up and moved to a shrine in the cathedral by Bishop Ethelwold. Miraculous cures were associated with the event, and Swithin's feast day is the date of the removal of his remains, not his death day.
However, the removal was also accompanied by ferocious and violent rain storms that lasted 40 days and 40 nights and are said to indicate the saint's displeasure at being moved. This is probably the origin of the legend that if it rains on Saint Swithin's feast day, the rain will continue for 40 more days.
Saint Swithin is still seen as the patron of Winchester Cathedral (shown above). His feast day is 15 July and his emblems are rain and apples.
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 na mair.