Catholic Activity: Weather Saints
The "dog days" of summer is a time to bring up the "weather saints", one of which is St. Swithin. Although these saints are no longer on the General Roman Calendar, they are included in The Roman Martyrology. It is still helpful to learn more about saints' lives and to celebrate our Church's heritage. The Feast Day Cookbook gives a short background on St. Swithin, the English saint, plus a few other weather saints, like St. Medard, St. Gervasius and Protasius, St. Godeliève and the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.
We are entering now the period known as "dog days" and which in many places marks the beginning of the rainy season. We would therefore like to speak first of St. Swithin's as one of the "weather saints," for as the saying goes,
Saint Swithin''s Day, if thou dost rain, For forty days it will remain; Saint Swithin's Day, if thou be fair, For forty days 'twill rain nae mair.Saint Swithin's connection with the weather, and particularly with the rain, doubtless comes from the legend that in his humility he asked to be buried outside his cathedral, where passers-by would step over his grave and raindrops from the eaves would fall upon it. He lived in the ninth century and was for a time one of the counselors of Egbert, a Saxon king. Later be became Bishop of Winchester, where great devotion to him long prevailed. Little else is known of him save that his feast is celebrated on the date when his relics were removed from the humble grave he had desired and placed, nearly a century after his death, in a new shrine built for him, where many miraculous cures took place.
And while we are on the subject of "weather saints," it might be pointed out that similar prophecies on certain days are made in various European countries although there is a difference of opinion as to the particular date in question. In France, for example, the feast of Saint Medard on June 8th, and the day of Saints Gervasius and Protasius, which falls on June 19th, have a similar character ascribed to them, as demonstrated by the verse:
S'il pleut le jour de Saint Médard, Il pleut quarante jours plus tard; S'il pleut le jour de Saint Gervais et de Saint Protais, Il pleut quarante jours après.We have already spoken of Saint Medard on his feast day. We know little about Gervasius and Protasius other than that they were revered as the first martyrs of Milan, that they were the sons of another martyr, named Vitalis, and that they were put to death in Nero's time. Though they died in the first century, it is said that Saint Ambrose discovered their relics while digging the excavations for his cathedral in 386 A.D. and had them interred there.
Belgium has its rainy saint, namely Saint Godelieve, of whom little is known other than that she was a holy woman in Flanders who was cruelly treated, and finally murdered, by her inhuman husband. Ever since her death in the eleventh century she has been venerated as a martyr in Belgium, and particularly in Ghent.
The Germans ascribe a similar character to the day of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, July 19th. The story of the persecution of these saints under Decius in 250 A.D. is too well known to be repeated here. In fact, they were so notable that the Greek and all other Eastern Churches list them in their catalogues of saints and even Mohammed introduced into his Koran a myth borrowed from them.
To return to Saint Swithin, besides the rain, his specialty is apples.
He blesses Bramley Seedlings For dumplings or pie; Blenheims will keep till Christmas If lofted cool and dry; And scarlet crabs for jelly And Coxes ripe from Rent Shall round an English belly To apple-fat content,says Elizabeth Sewell in a delightful poem published in Duckett's Register. And she ends:
High in the Heavenly Places I see Saint Swithin stand. His garments smell of apples And rain-wet English land.So in honor of Saint Swithin we may make Apple Dowdy.
Activity Source: Feast Day Cookbook by Katherine Burton and Helmut Ripperger, David McKay Company, Inc., New York, 1951