Monday 15 July 1985

Saint Swithin's Day


"Saint Swithin's Day if it do rain,
For forty days it will remain
But if on Saint Swithin's Day it be fair
For forty days t'will rain nae mair"

Of all the maxims to do with weather-lore I suppose the above adage concerning Saint Swithin's Day (15th July) is probably the most well-known, even though it doesn't really ring true.

The adage, which is certainly wide-spread, has several variations all with the same prediction, including:

"In July is Saint Swithin's Day,
On which if that it rain they say
For forty days after it will
Or more or less some rain distil"


"If Saint Swithin weep that year the proverb says
the weather will be foul for forty days"


"On Saint Swithin's Day if thou'll be fair
For forty days shall rain nae mair
But if Saint Swithin's thou be wet
For forty days it raineth yet"


"If about Saint Swithin's Day
A change of weather takes place,
We are likely to have a spell
Of fine or wet weather"

The continuing theme that runs among all these rhymes predicts a wet or fair St. Swithin's Day followed by forty days of similar weather and we all know from experience or memory that this is not always true.

The majority of the sayings refer to wet spells and while, yes, the last few days of July are often wet, we are not subjected (thank heavens, literally!) to forty days of showers on the trot. In fact, the meteorological records for 1861 to 1971 show just over 21 days of the 40 days following a wet St. Swithin's Day, on average, to be wet themselves.

So much for the Saint Swithin's Day prophecy but how did this come about?

Well, we know that Swithin (often referred to jovially as "the saint of soakers" or "the soaking saint") was indeed a local saint - some say he was a chaplain to an Anglo-Saxon king and some say he was an Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Winchester between 852 and 862 AD or thereabouts. The saying probably originated (or so the legend goes) because Swithin requested that after his death that he be buried where the rain from the church eaves would fall on to his grave. It is said that when he was taken from Winchester Cathedral on 15th July 862 AD it rained for forty days until 23rd August!

Of interesting note, is another saw or adage that reads:

"All the tears that Saint Swithin can cry,
Saint Bartlemy's dusty mantel wipes dry"

Saint Bartholomew's Day, the 24th of August (forty days and one after St. Swithin's Day) is, according to the rhyme, supposed to mark the end of the long wet spell. Like St. Swithin's, the St. Bartholomew's prediction has proved average results.

I suppose all of us, and that includes hay and holiday makers, must be grateful we are not condemned to such lengthy spells of precipitation, especially when so many of us grumble even about the odd shower but where would we be without the rain?

Still, if we did get such periods of continuous rain during the summer, it would certainly give us something to talk about!

Danny Howell.