15 July 2011

15 July - Saint Swithin; Apple Cake

Weather: If, on St. Swithin's day, it proves fair, a temperate winter will follow; but if rainy, stormy or windy, then the contrary.

If it rains even a few drops, it is said that St. Swithin is christening the apples, and the early sorts can be picked.

If St. Swithun weeps, the proverb says,
The weather will be foul for forty days.

[and the most well known:]
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 no more [or 'nae mair' if you must have a perfect rhyme]
Of all the weather-marking saints in the calendar, Saint Swithin (or Swithun) is arguably the most popular, at least in the English-speaking countries.  Most people have come across the last rhyme above at least once, and some of them even know the legend behind it. Swithin, himself, is pretty much lost.

Swithin lived in 9th century Saxon England, a young man of good family who was educated in Winchester, where he became a monk, then a priest, then a dean.  He was appointed confessor to King Egbert, who made him responsible for the education of the heir, Prince Ethelwolf.  In return, Ethelwolf had him chosen Bishop of Winchester, and granted a tenth of the land of England to the church, for which prayers were said for the king in all churches every Wednesday.

Bishop Swithin died on the 2nd of July, 862, and was buried in the churchyard at Winchester.  The feast today memorializes the translation of his relics.

The legend is that the humble Bishop, not wishing to be buried in the minster, as was the custom for bishops, desired to be buried in the open churchyard where the rain of Heaven could fall upon him, and so he was.  But his sanctity leading to miracles leading to canonization, the monks determined that his relics deserved a noble shrine within the cathedral, and made plans to move his body.  However, the saint disapproved, and on the day chosen for the translation of his relics, and for forty days after, he caused a heavy rain to fall, and the monks, taking the hint, left his body in the churchyard.

At some point, Saint Swithin must have relented (another legend says that a heavenly vision was the agency), for his relics were moved to a shrine inside the cathedral, which became a place of pilgrimage until it was destroyed and the relics scattered by order of Henry VIII.

A few sprigs of Wych elm placed in vases indoors today are said to prevent a curse from St. Swithin, although why he would curse anyone is a mystery.  Perhaps it is meant to mitigate the excessive rain (or excessive drought), so that we receive enough and no more.

Meanwhile, if St. Swithin christens the apples, make something festive, like APPLE CAKE.

Peel and slice 2 pounds of tart apples.
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Grease and lightly flour a 9" x 13" pan.

In a large bowl, mix together 2 cups of flour with 4 teaspoons of baking powder.

In another bowl, beat 4 eggs well.  Stir in 1-1/2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of oil.  Add to flour mixture and mix well.

Toss the apples with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon.  Fold apples into dough.  Pour into the baking pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until done.