Saint Dymphna

Saint Dymphna is the Patron Saint of:

Epilepsy

Insanity

Mentally ill

Neurological diseases

Incest 

Rape

Sexual Abuse

The story of St Dymphna, also spelled Dympna and Dimpna, is shrouded in mystery and uncertainty, but there is no question of a tradition of invoking her for the mentally ill.

The earliest historical account of veneration of the saint dates from the middle of the 13th century in Belgium, where the Irish saint Dymphna died and was buried in the seventh century.

The author of the account, a canon of the church of St Aubert at Cambrai, wrote a life of the saint commissioned by the Bishop of Cambrai, Guy I (1238–1247).

He states expressly that the basis for his biography was oral tradition.

In any case, he acknowledges that St Dymphna had been venerated for many years in a church in Gheel, in the province of Antwerp in Belgium.

According to tradition, Saint Dymphna was martyred as a teenager for her purity when she resisted the advances of a powerful figure – her Father Irish King Damon.

Saint Dymphna, according to tradition, was born the daughter of Damon, a pagan king of Ireland. Early in her life, she became a Christian and was secretly baptized.

When she was only 14 years of age, her mother died.  Her mother was very beautiful and a Christian, Dymphna was secretly baptised.  Following her death her father was wrought by terrible grief. He sent messengers throughout his own town and other lands to find another to be his wife, only none could be found. He proposed to his daughter that they marry, only she refused. Before this occurred, St. Dymphna had taken a vow of chastity, consecrating her virginity to Christ.

Dymphna fled from her father’s castle with Saint Gerebran, her confessor, and two other friends. Their boat landed in Gheel, Belgium. 

According to one tradition, Saint Dymphna build a hospice there for the poor and sick of the region.

Damon found them in Belgium, due to tracing her spending of foreign currency, and proposed his offer once again. At this, Gerebran rebuked the king for his proposition and urged Dymphna to remain in opposition. Damon then ordered his servants to behead the priest. When she persisted in her refusal, he drew his sword and struck off her head. Saint Dymphna received the crown of martyrdom in defense of her purity about the year 620 and became known as the “Lily of Eire”.

The people of the town buried the two bodies in a cave near Gheel.

Years later, when it was planned to transfer the remains to a more suitable place, workmen found the bones in two sarcophagi, one of which had a red tile with the inscription “Dympna”. According to the tradition, immediately after the discovery of the bodies a number of people who had visited the tomb and were suffering from epilepsy and various mental illnesses were cured. This is apparently the origin of the custom of praying to her for those with mental illnesses.

Shortly after her death, five “lunatics” wandered to the countryside where she was killed, and slept the night there, only to awaken cured of their disorders.  Other miraculous cures were reported throughout the centuries.

 She has since been invoked as the patron of those suffering from nervous, mental, and spiritual afflictions. A church was built on this site, only to be destroyed by fire in 1489, and rebuilt in 1532. The church remains to the present day, and has been joined by a house for the mentally ill that often houses as many as 1,500 patients.

The community became the therapy (also known as moral therapy). That community is still devoted to helping those with mental illness. As many as 2,000 patients live with families and work on everyday tasks until they are well.

The remains of St Dymphna were put in a silver reliquary in a church named after her in Gheel, while those of St Gerebernus were transferred to Xanten, an historic town in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany.

Reflection

Let us join Saint Dymphna and all of the saints in praying for those suffering from mental or spiritual ailments.

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