Born in Wessex, England; died at Winchester, England, July 2, 862.
The translation of his relics is observed 15 July.
Swithin was educated at the Old Abbey, Winchester, and was ordained (it
is uncertain whether or not he was a monk). He became chaplain to King
Egbert of the West Saxons, who appointed him tutor of his son Ethelwulf,
and was one of the king's counsellors. Swithun was named bishop of
Winchester in 852 when Ethelwulf succeeded his father as king. Swithun
built several churches and was known for his humility and his aid to the
poor and needy
A miracle attributed to him in the Golden Legend illustrates his
understanding of ordinary folk. A poor woman was pushed in a market-day
crowd and dropped her basket of eggs. St. Swithun blessed the broken
shells and the eggs were made whole again.
A long-held popular belief declares it will rain for 40 days if it rains
on his feast day.
Saint Swithun's day, if thou dost rain,
For forty days it will remain;
Saint Swithun's day, if thou be fair,
For forty days 'twill rain nae mair.
* * *
St. Swithun's Shrine at Winchester Cathedral
(On the web, with photographs, at
Before its destruction in 1538, the Shrine of St. Swithun in Winchester
Cathedral was perhaps the second most popular place of pilgrimage in
Medieval England. However, despite its popularity in times gone by, no
illustrations or detailed descriptions of the shrine have survived. The
form, style and even site of this holy relic remain controversial even
The pious Swithun, Bishop of Winchester in the mid 9th century was
originally buried (862) in a humble grave in the open between the tower
of St. Martin and the Cathedral Church of the Old Minster in Winchester.
This original grave, along with the minster itself, was excavated by
Martin Biddle in the 1960s. St. Swithun, however, was long gone.
Popular legend insists that the monks tried to move Swithun inside the
Old Minster, some nine years after his death. The saint, however, did
not approve of his removal from exposure to the elements. There was a
clap of thunder and it began to rain for forty days and forty nights!
About a hundred years later, however, Swithun appears to have changed
his mind. For various visions are said to have led a subsequent bishop,
(St.) Aethelwold, to successfully transfer his body inside the Old
Minster, on 15th July 971. Screens were placed round the grave and St.
Swithun was ceremonial exhumed: the bishop himself taking up the spade.
At around the same time, Bishop Aethelwold instigated an ambitious plan
to turn the Old Minster into a shrine-church centred around St.
Swithun's relics. He extended the building and enclosed the saint's
original grave beneath a huge crossing tower. In 974, King Edgar donated
a magnificent gold and silver feretory in which to enshrine St.
Swithun's body. It was studded with precious jewels and depicted scenes
of Christ's Passion, Resurrection and Ascension. On 30th October,
therefore, Swithun was translated once more. His head was removed to a
separate head shrine kept in the sacristy upon the altar "in a space
with a locked door, which could be described as a 'chamber' or
vestibule, and was guarded by a watcher or sacrist". The main shrine is
believed to have been placed on an altar over the original grave. Three
years later, Aethelwold had this area of the Minster completely rebuilt
with a massive westwork fit to receive the many pilgrims not only
visiting St. Swithun's Shrine, but those of St. Birinus and St. Birstan
St. Swithun's head was taken to Canterbury Cathedral by (St.) Alphege
when he was elevated from Bishop of Winchester to Archbishop of
Canterbury in 1006. An arm was also taken to Peterborough Abbey (now
With the arrival of the Normans and the building of the present
Winchester Cathedral to the south of the Old Minster, St. Swithun was on
the move once more. On his feast day in 1093, his feretory was carried
into the, still incomplete, new building and, the very next day, Bishop
Walkelin ordered the demolition of the Old Minster.
St. Swithun's feretory was probably placed behind the High Altar. In the
mid-12th century, Bishop Henry (of Blois) elevated St. Swithun onto a
large platform built into the eastern apse of the Norman Cathedral
especially for his veneration. Much remodelled, this area is still known
as the Feretory or Feretory Platform. Beneath it is the 'Holy Hole': a
small (originally larger) passage which enabled pilgrims to crawl from
outside the cathedral to right beneath St. Swithun's Shrine! Bishop
Henry also surrounded Swithun with the bones of various Saxon Kings and
Bishops in lead coffers, which he had removed from their 'lowly place'
of burial. But for how long did the new shrine remain in this position?
Here the controversy begins.
Please continue reading at
Service to out Father among the Saints Swithun, Bishop of Winchester
An article on the Wells of St Swithun:
The modern shrine (1962) over what was the grave of St Swithun
A Walk around Winchester Cathedral