Miniature Lives of the Saints – Saint Swithin, Bishop

statue of Saint Swithun in the Stavenger CathedralArticle

Swithin was born of noble parents, and at an early age became a monk at Winchester. There, we are told, he devoted himself to God so manfully and humbly, that he became a pattern of every virtue. King Egbert made him his chaplain, and entrusted to him the education of his son Ethelwolf, the father of Alfred the Great. When Ethelwolf became king Saint Swithin was made Bishop of Winchester and adviser to the king in all matters pertaining to the Church. We trace his influence in the laws about tithes, in the exemption of the Church from civil taxes, in the institution of Peter’s pence, and in the provision that every ten families should maintain one poor person. As bishop he was noted for a manly firmness and vigilance, and for humility and mortification of self. His tender sympathy with the poor was even more remarkable than his profuse almsgiving. He died A.D. 862, and was, by his own order, buried at the door of the church, that all who entered might trample on his grave. One hundred years afterwards his relics were translated into the restored cathedral; his hand, the instrument of so great charity, was found incorrupt, and innumerable miracles of healing were wrought at his shrine. In 1379 William of Wickham, Chancellor of England, and a devoted client of the Saint, built the nave and front of the existing cathedral.

The smart of poverty, says a spiritual writer, is allayed even more by one word of true sympathy than by the alms we give. Alms coldly and harshly given irritate rather than soothe. Even when we cannot give, words of kindness are as a precious balm; and when we can give, they are the salt and seasoning of our alms.

The poor of Christ are as a fruitful soil; the harvest is speedy and abundant. – Saint Augustine

As an instance of the Saint’s care for the poor, even in the smallest things, it is related that, when he was building a bridge at Winchester, some of the workmen insulted a poor woman who passed by, and in mischief broke the eggs she was carrying for sale. She complained to Saint Swithin of the insult and wrong; and the Saint, touched with compassion, took from her the basket in which the broken eggs were, made the sign of the Cross over it, and gave it back to her with the eggs whole as before.

The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me, and I comforted the heart of the widow. – Job 29:13

MLA Citation

  • Henry Sebastian Bowden. “Saint Swithin, Bishop”. Miniature Lives of the Saints for Every Day of the Year, 1877. CatholicSaints.Info. 27 February 2015. Web. 27 February 2017. <>