Browsing From the Pastor's Desk

St. Swithin's Day

Jul 12, 2018

Sunday, July 15. If all goes according to plan, I will be starting my trip home on this day. If all goes according to plan, I will be rested and ready to do battle again against the powers of evil.

July 15 is also the anniversary of the nomination of Barry Goldwater, so it is one specific date from the past that I remember doing something in particular, in this case staying up until 2 in the morning to listen to his acceptance speech, in which he said, “To my mind, the single essential element on which all discoveries will be dependent is human freedom. I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” His unwise support for extremism cost him the election, and my father bolted from the Republican party.

But I digress. Today, July 15, is Saint Swithin’s Day. His name is spelled several different ways, spelling not being particularly important to ninth-century folks. Saint Swithin was the bishop of Winchester, England in the glorious Anglo-Saxon days before the Norman conquest. Apparently he was a saintly man and had a miracle or two to his credit, the most interesting being the restoration on a bridge of a basket of eggs that some nasty workmen had broken.

Saint Swithin’s Day did not make it into Shakespeare like Saint Crispin’s Day did, but it made it into meteorology. According to English lore…

St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain, For forty days it will remain.
St Swithun’s day if thou be fair, For forty days ‘twill rain nae mare.

This is rather like our Groundhog Day (a more German custom). It means that if it rains on July 15, it’s going to rain for 40 more days. But if it is a clear day, then there will be no rain for the next 40 days. The basis of this tradition seems to lie in the fact that Saint Swithin requested that his remains be buried among the common people outside his cathedral; but in 971, after he had been made patron saint of Winchester Cathedral, his body was dug up and moved to a new indoor shrine. According to some writers, this caused sufficient displeasure in the heavens for a terrible downpour to strike the church and continue unabated for 40 days. Hence the legend. The only problem is that there is no evidence of any kind, with no early account of the reburial mentioning the slightest drop of rain. And furthermore, in recorded meteorological records, not a single 40-day drought has occurred anywhere in England during the summer months, and there has been not one instance at any time of the year of 40 consecutive days of rainfall.

Long patches of rain are psychological downers, especially if one’s mood is already down. But one hopes for sunshine as a norm. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote:

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Longfellow was hopeful in a serious, melancholy, dramatic, New England sort of way. He didn’t predict lengthy periods of rain but rather their inevitability. So buck up and bear it.

I find more hope in a tune sung by The Ink Spots and Ella Fitzgerald, music by the Count Basie Orchestra. So you know it has to be good.

Into each life some rain must fall,
But too much is falling in mine.
Into each heart some tears must fall,
But some day the sun will shine.
Some folks can lose the blues in their hearts.

Although Saint Swithin is the saint one should pray to in time of drought, the key to survival in any disaster is in the heart. If you look at pictures of emaciated families from the Sahel, you can see the heart. If you look at the victims of the hurricanes in Texas and Puerto Rico last year, you see heart. When you look at those whose hearts were broken but have healed, albeit with scars, you see the strength of the heart. And if you love or have ever loved, you know what a broken heart is. Love, not politics, takes us to the extremes. Moderation in love is no virtue; wisdom in love is.

On this Saint Swithin’s Day, enjoy the sunshine in your heart.


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