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July 15th St. Swithin's Day

( Originally Published 1884 )

One of the most popular notions yet currently relied upon by the superstitious is, " that when it rains on St. Swithin's holiday, we shall have a continuation of wet weather for forty days ;" and this conceit has received considerable encouragement, this year, from the coincidence of there having hitherto been a constant daily fall of heavy showers, commencing from the festival of that "Watery Saint." Some of your readers may not have the means of referring to the much esteemed publication of Mr. Brady, intituled, "Clavis Calendaria," and may therefore, I consider, receive much gratification by a perusal of the following brief extract from that work, which treats upon this, properly denominated, " Vulgar Adage." After affording an interesting outline of the legend of this saint, Mr. Brady continues :

" St. Swithin, at his own previous solicitation, was buried at 'Winchester, in the common cemetery, or church-yard, instead of the chancel of the Minster, as was the general usage with other bishops ; but his fame did not suffer by such humility : The services he had rendered the Ecclesiasticks were great, and that body did not prove ungrateful ; his grave was soon marked as peculiarly efficacious to the suffering Christians, and miracles out of number were recorded to have been wrought by his holy remains. One man who had lost his eyes, had them restored to him ; and others received similar benefits ; none, indeed, were refused relief, who applied for it with an humble heart, and firm reliance in the Saint's exertion t hence he naturally soon acquired the appellation of Merciful. Such an extensive benevolence became the theme of universal praises ; an order was obtained to remove the holy reliques into the choir, as better suiting their merits ; and a grand and solemn procession was appointed to grace the ceremony. A most violent rain shower, however, fell on the destined day, and continued for 39 others, without intermission ; in consequence of which, the idea of a removal was abandoned, as displeasing to St. Swithin, and as such, heretical and blasphemous ; though it would appear that the Saint afterwards relented, and permitted his bones to be taken from the cemetery, and lodged among the remains of the other bishops, in the year 5093. The vulgar adage, that we shall have forty days continuance of wet weather whenever rain falls on St. Swithin's Festival, no doubt, arose from this presumed supernatural circumstance. Without disputing the fact from which the popular fancy sprang, which, notwithstanding the glaring errors and absurdities of the monkish writers, is very probable to have been the case ; there is, nevertheless, not any occasion to have recourse to a miracle to account for such a phenomenon. Experience has amply shewn, that, whenever a wet season sets in about the end of June to the middle of July, when the heat of the sun is usually the most intense, it generally continues to nearly the end of the Summer, when the action of that orb has considerably abated ; the rain affording matter for exhalation, always naturally the strongest at the hottest period of the year, and those exhalations yielding in return matter for rain."

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