Shrine of St. Frideswide, Christ Church Cathedral Oxford.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Feast, July 15; St. Swithun

St. Swithun was the Bishop of Winchester in the ninth century. He was favored by king Egbert of Wessex in his early life, and was later chosen as bishop by King Ethelwulf. During his lifetime the kingdom of Wessex's importance in the Anglo-Saxon  hepitarchy greatly increased which elevated the bishopric of Winchester, Wessex's Royal diocese, to a more revered position. St. Swithun is remembered for his charity and humility, both qualities uncommon for his lordly episcopal colleagues and especially for the bishop of one of England's wealthiest dioceses, performing numerous small miracles that assisted commoners and inviting the poor of Winchester to great feasts rather than other clerics or nobles. Swithun traveled around his diocese on foot, both establishing new churches and taking great care in fostering and growing the older churches. He ordered that at his death he should be buried outside of the Saxon cathedral, in the graveyard with the poor, where his tomb would be worn by the rain-perhaps the origin of the famous St. Swithun's day nursery rhyme:
"St. Swithun's Day if thou dost rain
then forty days it shall remain
St. Swithun's day if thou be fair
for forty days 'twill nae rain mair."
When the great Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Dunstan, was working to revive monastic life in the Church in England and to reform its dioceses in the 10th century, the minster was rebuilt and St. Swithun's relics were translated into a shrine in the new church. His relics were translated into the retrochoir when the Norman Cathedral was built for the convenience of the thousands of pilgrims travelling between Canterbury and Winchester. The medieval shrine is gone, but in 1962 a new one was placed over his relics in Winchester Cathedral.
St. Swithun remains important to the Church today in his role as bishop or as any person with an high-profile job. Besides bringing the light of the Gospel to new lands, the Church must diligently maintain the light where it has been established. As St. Swithun traveled around his diocese on foot to care and nurture every parish in his diocese, the bishops of the Anglican Communion today should be careful to give aid to parishes and to make sure that the faith is being both accurately maintained and zealously evangelized. But St. Swithun's message and example extend beyond bishops to every priest and all the laity; who should just as carefully proclaim Christ and carry out his mission in caring for those with any kind of restraint or disadvantage.

Almighty God, by whose grace we celebrate again the feast of your servant Swithun: grant that, as he governed with gentleness the people committed to his care, so we, rejoicing in our christian inheritance, may always seek to build up your Church in unity and love; through Jesus Christ your son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. 

The 'holy hole' in the retro choir of Winchester Cathedral where pilgrims used to climb to get closer to the relics and the new shrine of St. Swithun over the spot where he is buried.

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