The above photographs were taken during a parish pilgrimage I led from Calgary to Winchester in September 2013. The pilgrims visited the site of the Shrine of St Swithun, located in the retrochoir of Winchester Cathedral. The shrine was sadly destroyed by Henry VIII’s Commissioners - at 3 am under cover of darkness, no less - in September 1538. There remains, however, part of a short tunnel - known as the Holy Hole (seen above) - which was used by pilgrims to crawl beneath the shrine and so be in as closest proximity as possible to the saint in order to obtain his healing.
‘Everyone knows the name of St Swithin because his day is supposed to have a meteorological significance, but the man himself is a stranger to us. It is difficult to realise his personality or be stirred by it, yet in his lifetime he was of singular influence, greatly beloved, and soon popularly venerated as a saint, to whom numerous churches all over England were dedicated.
…[I]t was not as a wise ecclesiastical statesman and keeper of the King’s conscience that he would be applauded by the common people, but as the father-in-God of his diocese, and in particular of the royal city of Winchester, whose people would be able to observe him closely and appraise him truly. He erected not only churches but buildings in general, himself personally superintending the work… He was himself extremely frugal in his food and self-denying as to sleep. He chose to journey about his diocese on foot, often by night, in order to avoid fuss and ceremony; and he would travel barefoot to dedicate a new church. These rather impersonal habits, common to so many saints, nevertheless indicate a man living spiritually rather than naturally, which accounts for his power of working miracles which revealed itself after his death, according to the testimony of many who asked him to help them in sickness and trouble. Such was his humility that he ordered that when he died he should be buried in the churchyard, where people might tread on his grave and the rain fall on it. But a century later the great Bishop Ethelwold ordered the translation of his remains into the new Winchester Cathedral which he had built and which he dedicated to St Swithin. It is said that on July 15, the day appointed for the solemnity, there was such a deluge of rain that the coffin could not be touched, and the continuance of the rain for forty days showed the saint’s displeasure at his removal from his humble resting-place: hence the superstition which, by connecting a wet July with St Swithin, has prevented us from properly venerating him as a historic person who by reason of his consecrated life, played a great and influential part in the life of our nation’.
Sibyl Harton, 1898-1993
Almighty God, by whose grace we celebrate again the festival of thy servant Swithun: grant that, as he governed with gentleness the people committed to his care; so we, rejoicing in our inheritance in Christ, may ever seek to build up thy Church in unity and love; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Fr Lee Kenyon
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