I originally published parts of this post on my old blog back in 2014. Our UK weather this year has been changeable to say the least; unusually wet back in May and early June, but then July came in blazing. I’m not a lover of the heat and as I write this, St Swithin’s day is likely to be sunny; everything is dry, and quality sleep becomes nigh impossible. So, in hope of the return of cooler (and I wouldn’t say no to) damper weather, I thought it worth revisiting the topic and I’ve expanded on it a little …
I’ve been dipping into my lovely little book of weather lore to see what Robin Page has to say about St Swithin’s Day – I’m sure you all know the proverb: One version goes like this…
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 nae mair.
Even now farmers take this date very seriously, for a dry St Swithin’s can mean a less worrrying harvest. On our farm we certainly take notice of the weather on 15 July and view rain on that day with anxiety.
St Swithun was Bishop of Winchester in the 9th Century. According to legend he asked to be buried where rain would fall on him, and was buried in the churchyard. Later though, his remains were brought into the cathedral, and he was said to be so angry it rained for forty days and they moved him back outside again! (Various versions of this story can be found in/on different sources.)
In The English Year – another lovely book on my shelves – a sort of almanac of folklore and traditions, it also suggests that St Swithin’s day was crucial to the apple crop.
You won’t have the jam made till the apples are christened … We never eat or cut apples until St Swithin has christened them.
However, the Met Office says it’s never been proven – since records began back in 1861 there have never been 40 consecutive dry or wet days starting on St Swithin’s day. That’s fair enough, for forty days is a long time – however depending on where the jet stream lies apparently, it does tend to be either unsettled and damp or dry and settled so a predominance of rain or sunshine over the forty days is much more probable …
Back in 2009, David Nicholls published his huge bestseller One Day (reviewed here) in which the action takes place entirely on St Swithin’s Day – over twenty years – following Em and Dex. In an article in The Independent, when asked why he chose St Swithin’s Day, Nicholls replied:
The novel opens on graduation night, and 15th July is a plausible date for a graduation ceremony. I didn’t want a date that carried any weight, like 4th July or 14th February: 15th July felt suitably random,
But I also needed a date, which, when seen in a diary, might conjure up a memory for the protagonists. ‘St Swithin’s Day’ was to work as a kind of mental tag. I liked the mythology of St Swithin’s Day, which is really about our desire and inability to predict the future. Thematically that seemed right.
In the article, Nicholls also refers to Billy Bragg’s song St Swithin’s Day – listen to that here – it’s very melancholy…
Happy St. Swithin’s (or St Swithun’s) day!