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British Culture, British Customs and British Traditions

St Swithin's Day - 15th July


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This section is in advanced English and is only intended to be a guide, not to be taken too seriously!

This isn't actually a festival, or a custom as such. However it is interesting for the folklore that surrounds it, and you will often hear it mentioned in the news, especially the weather forecast.

1. The famous saying goes that if it rains on St Swithin's Day, it will rain continuously for 40 days. And if doesn't, then there will be clear skies for 40 days.

2. Which means that whatever happens, it will end on St Bartholomew's Day.

3. St Swithin, the Bishop of Winchester, died in 862.

4. On his deathbed, he asked to be buried in a humble grave outside the north wall of his cathedral so that the "sweet rain from heaven" could fall on his grave.

5. But the monks felt it wasn't a fitting resting place. So on July 15, 971, they decided to move his grave to an ornate shrine they built for him.

6. Legend has it that torrential rains poured down on that day and every one after for the following 40 days and 40 nights. Believing that it was St Swithin showing his displeasure by weeping in despair, the monks decided against moving his remains. Hence the rhyme.

7. While many hope it'll be sunny and bright, apple-growers hope for rain on July 15. It is seen as the saints watering the crops, in anticipation of the feasts of Saints Peter and Paul.

8. The city of Stavanger in Norway has a cathedral dedicated to the saint. Its most prominent relic was Swithin's arm.

9. To mark St Swithin's Day, you could read more international weather wisdom, featuring such gems as "snow is due when the cat washes behind both ears".

10. Or you could carry an umbrella around for the next 40 days just in case.

British Culture