This month sees us enter what traditionally has been the hottest month of the year. It’s the end of the academic year and the start of a well-deserved rest for all who have been studying.
July also includes within it the feast day of St. Swithin, a day on which people watch the weather, for tradition says that whatever the weather is like on St. Swithin’s Day, it will continue to be so for the next forty days.
A traditional weather-rhyme throughout the British Isles since Elizabethan times tells us:
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.
(nae mair being a traditional colloquial form of no more.)
St. Swithin (or more properly, Swithun) was a Saxon Bishop of Winchester. He was born in the kingdom of Wessex and educated in its capital, Winchester. He was famous for charitable gifts and building churches.
As bishop, Swithun instructed that he should be buried humbly and not in a vast shrine, and when he died on 2 July 862 his request was followed. However, when a new cathedral was being built the new bishop decided to move Swithun’s remains into a shrine in the cathedral, despite dire warnings that to move the bones would bring about terrible storms. In the year 971 the move was made, and it apparently rained for 40 days. Thus, the feast-day of Swithun became synonymous with long summer storms rather than an occasion for celebrating Christian simplicity and holiness.
I would hope and pray that whatever the weather throughout July and August all our young people who have laboured during the academic year, and their families, have the opportunity to rest and to refresh themselves, in whatever way they are able.
We should not forget that on occasions there is value in rest and in doing nothing.
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” wrote the French Philosopher Blasé Pascal. It’s a line repeated so frequently, in the era of smartphones and social media, that it’s easy to forget how striking it is that he wrote it in the 1600s.
In Buddhism, “busyness is seen as a form of laziness” – it’s a failure to withhold our attention from whatever random email, task, webpage or social media app that lays claim to it. So, I trust that we will all find some beneficial space and stillness over the coming weeks.
P.S for all those anxious gardeners, walkers, farmers, and sun-lovers according to the Met Office, the Elizabethan rhyme is nothing other than a myth. It has been put to the test on 55 occasions when it has been wet on St Swithin’s Day and 40 days of rain did not follow!!