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It should have been especially cold yesterday, if mediƦval folklore is to be trusted; which clearly it is not.

Yesterday, January 13, was St. Hilary’s Day, which legend insists is the coldest day of the year. Weather prediction would be so simple, would it not, if that were the case? Or at least it would be on just one day of the year. “Fetch my pipe and slippers, for I am not forecasting the weather today; it forecasts itself”.

Although mid-January is of course one of the coldest times of the year, and although some old weather saws and adages do have a germ of truth, there is nothing to support the notion of particular frigidity on the Feast of St. Hilary. The rumour seems to have sprung from a severe and lengthy episode of frostiness in 1205 that lasted more than two months.

Stowe’s Chronicle notes that on this day “began a frost which continued till the two and twentieth day of March, so that the ground could not be tilled; whereof it came to pass that, in summer following a quarter of wheat was sold for a mark of silver in many places of England, which for the more part in the days of King Henry the Second was sold for twelve pence …

Straitened times, then, and no wonder the day that started it gained such a reputation.

‘Hilary of Poitiers’ was born at the end of the 3rd century into a pagan, Neo-Platonic family but fetched up, via study of Greek and then the Old and New Testaments, as a very un-pagan-like Bishop of Poitiers.

Here he is at his ordination with what appears, appropriately, to be a light, if regimented, flurry of snow in the background. And jolly pleased he looks with proceedings, too; as well he might, given that his name is properly St. Hilarius.

hilary of poitiers 1