St. Swithun’s ‘modest miracle’ is cause for celebration

Sunday, September 23, 2007 | 10:23 p.m. CDT; updated 12:55 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008
Diana Moxon, left, and Nancy Mebed share a story during the 12th annual Saint Swithun's Day party on Sunday, September 23, 2007 at the O'Connor's home. "Saint Swithun's Day is actually July 15, but we decided it should be a floating holiday so we could celebrate it any day we want," Joane O'Connor said of the party hosted at her home.

COLUMBIA — Few Americans have heard of St. Swithun, but he’s been John O’Connor’s excuse to throw a party for 12 years running.

Keeping the tradition alive, O’Connor, an environmental engineer, opened his home Sunday to about 40 guests in the name of celebrating the silliness of St. Swithun, the English bishop whose saintly act was to “heal” broken eggs.

For the truly adventurous, John O’Connor offers hi

Coddle, then beat, 12 dozen partridge eggs for five minutes (until frothy). Blend in, with vigorous stirring: • 12 whole braided garlic cloves; crushed, but not stirred • 11 flagons of mead brewed with sweet woodruff • 10 skinned, seeded tomatoes in Winchestershire sauce • 9 Pentecostal pints of tawny Oporto wood port • 8 drams of GMPP (ground mace, paprika and pepper) • 7 cuppas crumbled Cheddar cheese • 6 trivets of chopped celery and chives • 5 pynches all: basil, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme • 4 capers • 3 gills of Devonshire (clotted) creme • 2 poached calf brains (in season) or kidney pie filling • all left over “bubble and squeak” • And a pear from the Partridge’s tree Do not add pineapple or grapefruit as they have not yet been invented. Bake in a 1-by-13 foot trough under a smouldering peat fire for a fortnight.

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“This guy performed the most modest miracle, in my estimation, possible,” O’Connor said.

One year, a guest brought “healed” eggs to the party — bandages included. Another year, the festivities included a blind taste test of Columbia tap water and bottled water.

According to an English proverb, if it rains on St. Swithun’s Day — July 15 — it will continue to rain for 40 days. That the actual date of the party was Sept. 23 didn’t dishearten the celebration.

“He’s like the groundhog of England,” said John’s son, Tom O’Connor.

Most people had been to four or more Swithun’s Day parties. Judy Knudson, PedNet board member and bicycle enthusiast, has been coming to these parties since 1999. Holding a glass of red wine in her right arm, despite a recent bike-related arm injury, she recounted international biking adventures. Her invitation came from Joane O’Connor, John’s wife, whom she bicycles with in Columbia.

When Knudson’s not teaching piano, she and her husband, Dennis, travel to places such as New Zealand and France for bike tours. Her latest project is planning a bike trip from Budapest to Vienna.

Nancy Mebed, a former member of the Egyptian Exploration Society, has come every year since she moved to Columbia in 2001. Previously, she and her husband lived in Heliopolis, Egypt.

“You won’t find more interesting people than here,” she said.

The O’Connor children, spouses in tow, were the youngest attendees.

Recounting how he found St. Swithun, John O’Connor claims it all began when he read poetry about the saint to his children. Neither Heather nor Tom O’Connor remember those poems. Tom O’Connor suspects his father just likes having a silly excuse for a party.

“I do remember my dad talking about St. Swithun ad nauseum,” Tom O’Connor said with a smile.

While Americans rarely hear of St. Swithun, Diana Moxon, Tom O’Connor’s wife and Columbia Art League director, was quick to point out the saint’s fame in her native country. In England, there are cathedrals dedicated to him.

Whatever the origin, whatever the reason, whatever the day, St. Swithun’s Day has become an inside joke wherever John O’Connor casts his social net. As an active citizen and former MU professor, he captured quite a variety of guests at his garden party.

“It’s the highlight of my social scene,” Diana Townsend joked.

Mayor Darwin Hindman also made an appearance and sampled the buffet, which oddly enough didn’t include eggs.

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