Swithun (DNB00)

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SWITHUN, Saint (d. 862), bishop of Winchester, is said to have been born of noble parents, and, when he had passed boyhood, to have received clerical orders from Helmstan, bishop of Winchester (Flor. Wig. an. 827). It is frequently asserted that he was a monk of Winchester, and by some that he became prior of the convent. These assertions are baseless (Acta Sanctorum, Jul. i. 325; the words in his profession of obedience, as given by Rudborne, which refer to his monastic vow, are interpolated (Ecclesiastical Documents, iii. 634), and there is some reason for believing him to have been a secular clerk. Egbert [q. v.], king of the West-Saxons, had a high opinion of him, is said to have followed his counsel in many matters, and entrusted him with the education of his son Ethelwulf [q. v.] He may have been the deacon of Helmstan, for he attests a questionable charter, dated 838, as deacon, and his name follows that of the bishop (Kemble, Codex Dipl. No. 1044). Ethelwulf, having succeeded as king, appointed him, with the consent of the clergy, bishop of Winchester on the death of Helmstan; he was elected, and was consecrated, probably on 30 Oct. 852, by Archbishop Ceolnoth (his profession of obedience is extant, Eccl. Doc. u.s.). He was one of the two chief counsellors of the king, who is said to have been guided by him specially in ecclesiastical matters, while those pertaining to war and finance were directed by Ealhstan, bishop of Sherborne; both joined in stirring up the king to exertion (Will. Malm. Gesta Regum, ii. c. 108). Both are represented as advising him in some of the questionable charters relating to his benefaction in 854 (Eccl. Doc. u.s. 638–44). It has been inferred that when the West-Saxons revolted from Ethelwulf in 856, Swithun remained true to him (Green, Conquest of England, p. 83). He has been credited with having caused the Latin annals of his see to be edited, with additions and a continuation, and thus to have contributed towards the later compilation of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ (Earle, Two Saxon Chronicles Parallel, Introd. p. xiv). He was a builder, and his works included a stone bridge across the Itchin at the eastern gate of Winchester, which excited much admiration, and the building and repair of many churches. His kindness is illustrated by a legend of his making whole a basketful of eggs carried by a market-woman that was broken on his bridge; and, as an evidence of his humility, it is stated that when he was about to dedicate a church, he always went to it on foot, however great the distance, going by night to escape observation. His humility caused him, when dying, to bid those with him bury him outside his church, in a spot where his grave would be trodden by the feet of the passers-by, and receive the raindrops from the eaves. He died on 2 July 862 (Flor. Wig. sub an.), and, in accordance with his command, was buried outside the north wall of the minster of Winchester, between it and the wooden belfry tower (Lanfrid and Wolstan ap. Acta Sanctorum, u.s.; Gesta Pontificum, pp. 161–2).

In the course of a century the place of his burial was, it is said, forgotten. When, however, Bishop Ethelwold [q. v.], Swithun's successor in the next century, was rebuilding the minster, the way was gradually prepared for a solemn translation of Swithun's body. Eadsige of Winchcomb, one of the clerks that Ethelwold had turned out of Winchester, pointed out the bishop's grave to Ethelwold. Meanwhile a ceorl declared that Swithun had removed a hump from his back. Other miracles followed, and at last King Edgar or Eadgar (944–975) [q. v.] ordered Ethelwold to translate the body. This was done on 15 July 971, the bishop, with the assistance of many abbots, carrying it into ‘St. Peter's house,’ as the minster was then called, and depositing it in a shrine at the east end. Miracles followed in great number; within ten days two hundred were said to have been healed, and during the first year the number was incalculable (Gloucester Fragment). Ethelwold ordered that when a miracle was worked, the monks should assemble and give thanks in their church, and this order made the constant miracles irksome to them; they grumbled at them, and Swithun appeared to rebuke them (Lanfrid). Swithun received a popular canonisation, and the church, originally dedicated to SS. Peter and Paul (Historia Ecclesiastica, iii. c. 7), was called by his name until Henry VIII in 1540 ordered that it should be called the church of the Holy Trinity. His quickness in granting the prayers of the sick procured him the surname of ‘Pius.’ Miracles at his shrine were still frequent in the time of William of Malmesbury, who records that he himself saw one performed (Gesta Pontificum, p. 168). The days of the deposition and translation of St. Swithun are noted in a calendar in the missal of Robert of Jumièges [q. v.] at Rouen, which has some prayers for his devotion. On 15 July 1093 the relics of the saint were again translated, his feretory being borne from the church of Ethelwold and placed by Bishop Walkelin in the new church that he had built in its place (Annales de Wintonia). The feretory having been much injured by an accident in 1241, the relics of the saint were exhibited on 17 May, apparently in order to draw forth offerings for its repair. The shrine was destroyed in 1538, when the stones and gold were found to be false, but the silver of it was roughly estimated as worth about two thousand marks (Suppression of the Monasteries, p. 218).

The old belief as to the influence of St. Swithun's day—the day of his translation—upon the succeeding weather is expressed in the lines—

St. Swithin's Day, if thou dost rain,
For forty days it will remain;
St. Swithin's Day, if thou be fair,
For forty days 't will rain na mair.

(Hone, Every-Day Book, i. 954.). A notice of the superstition appears in Jonson's ‘Every Man out of his Humour’ (1598, act. i. sc. i.). The story that when the monks desired to translate the saint's body into their church it rained so hard for forty days that they were unable to do so, and, believing that the rain was an evidence of the saint's displeasure at their design, finally abandoned it, is an inversion of the contemporary record, which represents the saint as desiring translation, and cannot have arisen until the memory of the famous shrine had died out among the ignorant. No special incident need be sought for to account for the English superstition, for similar beliefs existed in other countries in connection with other saints, as in France in connection with the days of St. Médard (8 June) and of SS. Gervaise and Prothais (4 July), in Flanders with Ste Godeliève's day (6 July), and in Germany with the day of the Seven Sleepers (27 June), and others (Notes and Queries, 1855, xii. 137, 253), though it is just possible that the words of William of Malmesbury, about the raindrops on St. Swithun's grave, which seem to have been an addition to the original story, may have had something to do with the choice of his day rather than that of any other saint of about the same time of year. It has been proved by observations taken at Greenwich during a period of twenty years that ‘a dry St. Swithun’ is not infrequently followed by more or less rain in the next few weeks (Brand). In some parishes, as at Kingston-on-Thames, church dues were gathered on St. Swithun's day (ib.) Forty-three churches in England are dedicated to him. Swithin, as the saint's name is sometimes written, is an incorrect spelling.

[Among the earliest hagiographical accounts of St. Swithun may be mentioned: (1) the history of the translation and miracles in Latin prose, by Lanfrid, a monk of the old minster at Winchester, written not later than 1006, and printed in the Bollandist Acta Sanctorum (Lanfrid regrets that he can say little about the saint's life owing to lack of written materials); (2) a work on the same subject, and of about the same date, by Wolstan, also a Winchester monk, written in Latin verse and extant in MS. Reg. 15, C. vii and MS. Bodl. Auct. F. 2, 14, from which extracts are given in Acta Sanctorum (Mabillon), copied in the Bollandist Acta Sanctorum; (3) a life by Goscelin, printed by Surius and in Acta Sanctorum (Mabillon), with collations from Capgrave's text; (4) miracles from MS. Reg. Sueciæ 769, Acta Sanctorum (Bolland); and (5) a curious fragment of three leaves in Anglo-Saxon prose extant at Gloucester, printed by Professor Earle, with facsimile, in his Gloucester Fragments, and dated by him about 985. See also Flor. Wig., Kemble's Codex Dipl. (both Engl. Hist. Soc.); Will. Malm. Gesta Regum and Gesta Pont., Annales de Winton, ap. Ann. Monast. ii. (all Rolls Ser.); Haddan and Stubbs's Eccl. Doc. vol. iii.; Bollandists' Acta Sanct. Jul. i. pp. 321 sq.; Acta Sanct. O. S. B. Mabillon sæc. iv. pars ii. 71; Earle's Gloucester Fragments, pt. i. (with essay on Life and Times of St. Swithun); Green's Conquest of England; Willis's Winchester Cathedral, 1846; Notes and Queries, 1855, xii. 137, 253; Brand's Pop. Antiq. ed. Hazlitt, i. 189.]

W. H.