Calling upon patron saints of weather
With all the extreme weather we have been having around the country this year, it seems like time to ask some of the saints for their prayers.
Not an original thought. A recent Catholic blog had a comment from a priest on the same thought, but since he couldn’t find a saint for storms or bad weather, he turned to St. Francis of Assisi “the patron saint of ecology.”
Pope John Paul II proclaimed St. Francis of Assisi the patron of ecology (more properly “of environmentalists”) in 1979, citing the saint’s famous “Canticle of Creatures” as inviting all creation, including “natural forces,” to praise God.
But there actually are several saints known as patrons of weather, including one whose feast we celebrated on July 14: St. Swinthun (Swithin). The English saint was Bishop of Winchester in the 10th century. When he died, legend has it, Swinthun asked to be buried outside the old Winchester Cathedral so that the rain from the eaves would fall on him.
This, no doubt, led to the popular English rhyme:
St. Swithin’s day if it dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin’s day if it be fair
For forty days ’twill rain nae mair.
A similar rhyme exists in France for St. Medard (Medardus), a fifth century bishop of Rouen. His feast is June 8. The weather connection comes from a story about Medard as a child: he was sheltered from a rainstorm by a hovering eagle.
Even St. Vitus, perhaps best known for the muscle disorder that bears his name, has a weather rhyme connected with his feast of June 15. The only difference is that rain that begins on St. Vitus’ day will only last for 30 days.
Leaving rain behind, we turn to thunderstorms and find the upcoming feast of St. Donatus (Aug. 7), the patron against lightning strikes. His name in German is Donner, which means “thunder.” Donatus was a second century martyr of the church. He served as a soldier in a Roman legion popularly known as the “thunder legion.” In one battle, they were surrounded and nearly wiped out except that, at Donatus’ prayer, a storm came up and drove off the enemy.
St. Barbara (Dec. 4) is also a patron for those seeking protection against lightning. Barbara seems to have lived in the third century. Her father, Dioscorus, was a pagan and did not want his daughter to be a Christian. However, despite torture and imprisonment, Barbara kept true to her faith. Finally, she was condemned to death and her father himself beheaded her. However, on his way home, he was killed by lightning.
Another saint connected with lightning is St. Erasmus (June 2), sometimes called St. Elmo. He is the patron of sailors. It is said that when St. Elmo’s Fire, a phenomenon of blue lightning that appears around tall objects like ships’ masts during and after storms, appears, a ship is protected by St. Elmo.
Also for thunderstorms in general is St. Scholastica (Feb. 10), the twin sister of St. Benedict. The story is that, a few days before Scholastica’s death, Benedict came to visit her in her convent. When he rose to leave, Scholastica urged him to stay longer. He refused, so she prayed and a violent storm came to keep him from leaving. It was the last time the twins were together, for she died three days later.
We’ve all been in weather situations where we turned to prayer. Some might ask why we would turn to saints like Francis or Barbara for assistance instead of going right to God. But the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” reminds us that when the saints “entered into the joy of their Master, they were ‘put in charge of many things.’ Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world” (n. 2683).
And, just like us, every saint was once subject to the fickleness of the weather. They know what it’s like.
Sources: “The Catholic Encyclopedia;” “Catechism of the Catholic Church;” Catholic Online; Catholic Doors; Luxemburg American Catholic Society; and “St. Anthony Messenger”