Today is St Swithin’s Day, commemorating the English saint-bishop, quite obscure in life but after his death famed as patron of Winchester cathedral and as a miracle-worker (and reference figure for a terrific song by Billy Bragg). Most of all, he became one of the best-known weather forecasters (along with hairy caterpillars and Punxsatawney Phil).
The lore says
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 ’twill rain nae mair.
I was wondering whether St Swithin (or “Swithun,” since, back in the tenth century, people weren’t fussy about spelling) restricted his weather forecast to England, or whether he reflected the tendency of expansionist English thinking and simply assumed that everything that applied to England applied also to other realms in the British Isles. Swithin’s own sphere of experience and interest seems to have focused solely on Winchester, but the concluding line of the quatrain sounds a lot like a Scottish pronunciation. Why should our weather be controlled by someone who may never have travelled north of the Thames?
In other words, it’s raining today in Scotland, and forty days is a long time.