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St. Swithin's Day

Luglio 2016
Se piove a St. Swithin’s Day, il 15 luglio, pioverà per 40 giorni. Questa è una vecchia leggenda, cara ai britannici, ma che ovviamente non ha alcun fondamento. E se pensate che Londra sia la città più piovosa del mondo... ripensateci! A quanto pare, piove di più a Napoli!

di George Walmsley

File audio:

Speaker: Justin Ratcliffe (Standard British accent)

Italians and other nationalities think that it rains all the time in England.  But is that true? The average annual rainfall in London is 21.9 inches, or 557 millimetres. In Rome it is 31.4 inches, or 799 millimetres. Manchester has more rain, at 32.6 inches, or 829 millimetres, but some other Italian cities are worse: Milan has 36.2 inches, or 920 millimetres, and Turin has 38.6 inches, or 981 millimetres. But the worst offender is Naples, the city of “O sole mio.” It has 39.7 inches, or 1008 millimetres. Leeds, with 40.3 inches, or 1024 millimetres, is worse, but people need to be more objective when they complain about the English rain.


It is true that the English weather isn’t very good during the summer. This could have more to do with legend than it does with statistics. July 15th is St. Swithin’s Day and, according to tradition, if it rains on St. Swithin’s Day, then it will rain for the next 40 days and nights. If, on the other hand, the weather is good on St. Swithin’s Day, then that will continue for the next 40 days and nights. But, according the Met Office, this is impossible. There is no record of 40 consecutively dry or wet days from mid-July: the records go back to 1861.


The St. Swithin's Day legend is probably what the English call “an old wives’ tale”; in other words nonsense, but it’s a nice story. St. Swithin was an Anglo-Saxon bishop who lived in the old kingdom of Wessex. He became Bishop of Winchester in 852 and died in 862. He was a modest man and asked to be buried outside the cathedral. 100 years later he became the patron of the cathedral and his remains were moved inside the building. Apparently, St. Swithin – or his spirit – wasn’t happy. There was a violent thunderstorm and this continued for 40 days. 


You can visit the shrine of St. Swithin today. And if you go the cathedral, you can also see a plaque to another famous person who is buried there. This is the novelist Jane Austen, who died in 1817. The cathedral is beautiful and in the 1960s it was the subject of a hit song called "Winchester Cathedral." It was sung by many people, including the New Vaudeville Band, Petula Clark and Frank Sinatra.


This old rhyme has been popular since Elizabethan times:

St. Swithin’s day if thou dost rain  (if you do rain)
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin’s day if thou be fair  (if you are beautiful)
For forty days ‘twill rain nae mair.’ (it will rain no more)

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An old wives’ tale Una vecchia superstizione, una leggenda metropolitana. Si usa la frase “un racconto delle vecchie donne” per indicare una credenza oppure una superstizione. Nell’inglese moderno wife (al plurale wives) significa moglie, mentre  nell’inglese antico significava genericamente 'donna'.