Not a great deal is known about the life of Swithun. He was educated in Winchester, the capital of Wessex. King Egbert of Wessex appointed Swithun as his chaplain, and part of his responsibilities included the education of the king’s son, Ethelwulf. The Viking attacks on Britain were mounting in intensity during the early years of the 9th century, and the kingdom was frequently at war.
When Ethelwulf succeeded to the throne of Wessex in 839, he consolidated the importance of Wessex as the major kingdom in England. He was, however, more interested in religion than military life. In 852 he chose Swithun as bishop of Winchester. In that position Swithun became famous for his acts of charity and for his encouragement of the building of churches. He played an important role as an adviser of the king, who relied heavily on him. Although a friend of the king, he didn’t put on airs. Swithin made his diocesan journeys on foot; when he gave a banquet, he invited the poor and not the rich.
Swithun at his own request was buried, not in the cathedral, as would have been normal for a bishop, but in the grounds of the cathedral, to reinforce his identity with ordinary people. His tomb was just outside the west door of the cathedral.
A century later, when extensive alterations were made to the cathedral, Swithun’s tomb was relocated and encompassed within the new building. He was moved from his grave to the indoor shrine in the Old Minster at Winchester on 15 July 971. This was accompanied by heavy rain and reports of miraculous cures, giving rise to Swithun’s association with healing and stories about 40 days of rain if rain fell on St Swithun’s Day.
Swithun’s remains came to be regarded as valuable relics and were eventually divided between several small shines in varies places. His main shrine was demolished during the Reformation, but restored in 1962.
DIED:2 July 862 AD, Winchester, England