St Swithin, the ninth century Bishop of Winchester. [Getty Images]
The rain-soaked inhabitants of the United Kingdom have been desperately awaiting the return of fine weather after what has been the wettest start to any summer in more than 100 years.
For those who believe in the folk lore of St Swithin’s Day, their hopes will be particularly high on Sunday 15 July as this day is supposedly a predictor of the rest of the summer:
St Swithin’s Day, if it does rain
Full forty days, it will remain
St Swithin’s Day it will be fair
For forty days, ‘twill rain no more.
Swithin was a ninth century Bishop of Winchester in southern England. When he died he was buried just outside the Cathedral, but just over a century later his remains were removed to a shrine inside.
It is said that this event was accompanied by severe rain storms which lasted for the next 40 days and 40 nights.
40 may be a highly significant in religion: both Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad fasted for 40 days; Moses was on the mount for 40 days and the Israelites wandered for 40 years.
In meteorology, the number does not hold any such significance and there is no evidence to back up the claims of St Swithin to have been England’s first weather forecaster.
Other countries have similar pieces of weather lore. France has a more qualified piece of saintly weather advice:
If it rains on the St Medard (8 June)
It will rain for 40 days,
Unless Saint Barnabe (11 June)
Saint Gervais (19 June), when it is fair,
Drags Medard and Barnabe out of the water.
Other holy weather forecasters include the Italian, St Paternian. There is a Romagna proverb which translates as:
‘On St Paternian’s Day, the dog’s tail wags.’
This is taken to mean that cold weather begins to be felt around the date of the saint’s day, 23 November.
If Paternian is seen as a guide to winter weather, so Quirinus of Neuss (Germany) is supposedly an indicator of summer weather.
This saint’s day falls on 30 March when, it is said:
‘As St Quirinus’ Day goes, so will the summer.’
So what does Swithin predict this year? Unfortunately there is no clear answer. Although much of the UK will be dry there will also be a few showers.
Does that mean 40 days of sunshine or 40 days or rain? Only time will tell, but after the wettest April and June on record and a wet first half of July, I would be more inclined to opt for the rain.