By Anne Van Tilburg
Published on 12/3/2010

Once upon a time many centuries ago, there lived a king called Ethelwulf, who was the ruler of the West Saxons. When he was a boy, Ethelwulf learned his lessons from Swithin, a good and wise teacher who became bishop of Winchester when Ethelwulf became king. Even though Swithin was the bishop, he remained in the king's court to teach Ethelwulf's son, who grew up to be one of the greatest of Saxon kings, Alfred the Great.

Swithin was a humble man who did not like all the fuss that went with being a bishop. He loved to teach and he did not want to waste his time being honored and bowed to. People called him the Barefoot Bishop because he traveled the country side on foot and with no shoes on. Always he walked from town to the city, from the city to the monastery, and from the monastery to the peasants huts. He soon discovered how long it took to get from here to there by foot, and he thought he ought to build some bridges as well as churches. So he did, and it seemed almost a miracle to the people that they could cross from one side of a river to another on foot without having to travel across by boat.

One day when Swithin was helping some work-men to build a bridge, a woman hurrying across it, stumbled and broke a basket of eggs she had ready for market. She began to cry and wail but the men paid no attention to her.

"She will get over it. Besides, it was not our fault" they said to the bishop. To the the woman, they said crossly. "Now stop carrying on in front of the bishop and get on your way!" 

Swithin heard and saw all this and said to the men, "Don't be so harsh with this lady. Her eggs are as important to her as this bridge is to us."
He put his arm around her and said, "Do not worry, you will have your eggs again." And he blessed the basket and at once every crack sealed up and each egg was as good as new.

Not only Ethelwulf and his court loved Swithin. The villagers and children ran to him when they saw him walk past in his bare feet. He wanted them to be near him always, so he asked that, when he died, to bury him outside the cathedral where they could visit him and walk over his grave. The priests in high positions thought this was not right, for it would not be dignified for a bishop to be walked over. When Swithin died, the villagers obeyed his wishes, but in the back of their minds was the notion that they would dig him up and bury him in a proper place inside the cathedral. They even considered putting in a stained-glass window showing Swithin blessing a bridge.

One day they tried to move him. But it began to rain. So they waited for the next day. It rained again. And again and again for  40 days, until they finally gave up and let Swithin have his way. This is why it is said that if it rains on the feast day of Swithin, which is July 15, it will rain for 40 days after. And that is why people who live in the northern hemisphere pray to Swithin not to let it rain on his feast-day because that would ruin many summer vacations, because in the northern hemisphere summer is in July, and Swithin is too kind to let that happen.

This saint shows us how happy Jesus is when we are kind to one another, and help each other. Also how important it is that we are obedient to our mother and father and our teachers at school. If we do this then surely Jesus will reward us with a happy family life, and when we are ready to leave this world we will also see Swithin in heaven.

Source: Once upon a time saints.