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Rain or Shine on St Swithun’s Day?

There is a suggestion that the proverb found in British Folklore derived from a downpour of rain on July 15 1315, which is St Swithun’s Feast day but there may be a more scientific explanation for this event.

Around the middle of July, the jet stream usually settles into a pattern typically holding steady until the end of August.

This may go a little way to explaining why we seem to have so many wet school summer holidays!

Born in Wessex, St Swithun was the Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Winchester and notably famous for charitable gifts and building churches and occasional ‘miracles’.

His best known ‘miracle’ was his restoration of a basket of eggs on a bridge that workman had maliciously broken! On his deathbed, Swithun was adamant that he should be buried outside the North wall of his cathedral, ‘where passers-by should pass over my grave and raindrops from the eves drop upon it’.

For nine years his wishes were followed until he was moved from his resting place to an indoor shrine in The Old Minster at Winchester and his body was likely to have been split further between a number of smaller shrines.

His head was detached at some point in the middle ages and taken to Canterbury Cathedral. Peterborough Abbey ended up with an arm! The inclement weather on his Feast Day has been linked to evidence of his fury at having his wishes overturned.

Many churches throughout the South East, particularly in Hampshire have been dedicated to St Swithun and he is the patron Saint to whom one should pray in the event of drought, it is said that he will stand by your side.

Factfile – East Grinstead’s St Swithun’s Church:

  • A church has stood on the site of St Swithun’s for more than 1,000 years. The original church was built in 1078 but there may have been an earlier wooden building.
  • In September 1683, the church steeple was struck by lightning. It was rebuilt, but due to poor materials, the tower collapsed in 1684.
  • Architect James Wyatt designed the new church at a cost of £30,000 – a whopping £2.5 million in today’s money!
  • It is said that Mr Speaker Abbott wanted the tower to be 25 feet higher so he could see the weather vane from his mansion at Kidbrooke in Forest Row.
  • The Oxford Movement stained glass window on the North wall depicts John Mason Neale, who is buried in the churchyard, close to Sackville College, where he was warden of the almshouses from 1846 – 66.
  • Just outside the South door are three tablets which form part of a memorial to the three local Protestant martyrs who were burnt at the stake on July 18 1556 during a busy East Grinstead Market day.
  • The mosaic floor in The Sanctuary is believed to be the work of Constance Kent, a girl who was sent to prison in 1865 for the murder of her brother 150 years ago at Road Hill House. There is no ‘hard proof’ of this connection but the church was mentioned in the book, ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whycher’ which was televised a couple of years ago.

St Swithun’s church is currently advertising for a new Vicar – any takers?

To find out more, tours of the church take place every Monday and Thursday during June, July and August. Meet at the entrance at 2.30pm.

By Rachel Whitlam

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