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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 (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney).

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.

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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 today.

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 too.

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 Cathedral).

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

Tiny Url:

A Walk around Winchester Cathedral

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