What is St Swithin’s Day?

What is St Swithin’s Day?

There’s a classic episode of The Simpsons where Bart breaks his leg. It borrows heavily from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and a standout scene involves Bart reciting a play he wrote. He adopts a terrible British accent to talk about kippers and something called St Swithin’s Day. As it turns out, it’s a real thing that falls on July 15. And between vengeful spirits and weather folklore, it’s pretty damn interesting.

If you need a refresher on its appearance in The Simpsons, you can watch the short scene here:

“Kippers for breakfast, Aunt Helga? Is it St. Swithin’s Day already?”

“‘Tis, replied Aunt Helga.” 

What is St Swithin’s Day?

St Swithin (or St Swithun) was the Bishop of Winchester and died in 842 AD. According to the BBC, he was a humble man who wished to be buried in a simple grave where the rain would fall on him. He did not want to be entombed within the very grand Winchester Cathedral.

Sometime in the next century his remains are said to have been moved into the cathedral on July 15. Legend has it that St Swithin’s spirit was furious and caused a huge storm that lasted for weeks.

And thus St Swithin’s Day was born, which is today. According to folklore, the weather on St Swithin’s Day will continue for the next 40 days and 40 nights. So if it rains on the day, it will allegedly continue to for the next 40 days. There is even a poem about it:

St Swithin’s Day, if it does rain

Full forty days, it will remain

St Swithin’s Day, if it be fair

For forty days, t’will rain no more

Is there any truth to it?

According to Weather Online, kind of! While a straight 40 days of rain, or lack thereof, isn’t likely — general weather consistency is. The site states that summer weather patterns in the UK tend to establish themselves in mid-July and remain relatively steady.

“As the path of our weather systems is controlled by the jet stream, a more southerly location of the frontal zone is likely to bring rather unsettled, wet and cool weather,” the website reads.

“On the other hand, a frontal zone shifted further to the north will help the Azores high to build over western Europe, thus bringing dry and pleasant weather to the UK.”

So while St Swithin himself may not be controlling the weather, the idea of consistent weather patterns perhaps lends some scientific reasoning to the folklore.