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St Swithun a Humble Man

Many of us have been brought up with the folktale that if it rains on St Swithun’s day, that it will rain for forty days after that but it hardly seems fair that this humble man should have the vagaries of the English climate foisted upon him.

Possibly, St Swithun is Winchester’s most famous bishop, whose shrine was visited by pilgrims from all over England and Europe. He is remembered for a number of kind, clever and even miraculous deeds. He built a stone bridge over the River Itchen at the Eastern gate of Winchester, to help the poor cross the river to sell their wares in the city.

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All those broken eggs

The story tells of an old woman, who while crossing this bridge dropped her basket of eggs, breaking them all. Her pitiful crying was heard by St Swithun who immediately restored the eggs to her, unbroken. In various paces in Hampshire this feat is recorded with a depiction of the broken eggs.

C13th Wall Painting Showing St Swithun & the Woman dropping her eggs on East Bridge Winchester

C13th Wall Painting Showing St Swithun & the Woman dropping her eggs on East Bridge Winchester

St Swithun is thought to have repaired and restored many of Hampshire’s ancient churches but sought no glory in doing so, travelling himself on foot and often at night to escape attention, to dedicate the new church.

It is suggested that it is this humility that is reflected in his dying wish to be buried outside of Old Minster, where the rain could fall on him and the people could walk over his grave and so he was laid to rest outside the north wall of the Minster in 862 AD.

Moving the body of St Swithun

Not respecting his wishes, a number of attempts to move the body of St Swithun were made, including one on the 15th July 871. On this day it started to rain and then continued to rain for forty days and nights, hence the saying, well known in Hampshire;

St Swithn’s day, if thou be fair,

For forty days it will remain.

St Swithun’s Day, if thou bring rain,

For forty days it will remain.

St Swithun’s remains were eventually moved in 963AD with no adverse weather recorded.

St Swithun's Crossing Winchester

St Swithun’s Crossing Winchester

The shrine of St Swithun

The shrine was destroyed in 1538 at the time of the Reformation but you can visit the new shrine in Winchester Cathedral and see if you can spot those broken eggs.

St Swithun's Shrine Winchester Cathedral

St Swithun’s Shrine Winchester Cathedral

 

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