Feast Day: May 15
Patron of: mental illness, nervous diseases, incest victims, runaways.
Symbol: princess with a sword holding the devil on a leash, princess holding a sword and a lamp.
Young Dymphna was the daughter of a pagan Irish chieftain named Damon. A pagan is someone who worships other gods, and doesn't believe in Jesus. Her mother was a Christian and she taught Dymphna about the love of God. Unfortunately, Dymphna's mother died when she was only fourteen years old.
Both Damon and Dymphna were grief stricken at her death, but Damon's sadness was so great that he became mentally ill. He decided that he needed to find another woman as beautiful and good as his late wife to marry, so he sent his soldiers all over the country to find a new wife for him. But no such woman could be found.
Then Damon realised that the only woman in Ireland who was as beautiful and good as his late wife was their daughter, Dymphna! In his madness, he decided to marry her. Of course, Dymphna said 'No.' When Damon continued to insist, she ran away across the sea to Belgium with the help of an elderly priest, Saint Gerebran.
Damon followed them, and searched the countryside of Belgium for his daughter and the priest. He was determined to find them. Finally, he discovered them in a town called Gheel, and demanded once again that Dymphna return with him to Ireland to be his wife. She refused, and in his insanity, he killed her and Saint Gerebran.
The place where Saint Dymphna was killed has become a shrine. It quickly became known for miraculous cures of mental illness and possession. Her relics are reported to cure insanity and epilepsy.
Saint Dymphna was the daughter of an pagan Irish chieftain and a Christian mother. She was raised in the faith by her mother, and had a good friend and spiritual director, an elderly priest called Gerebran. Her mother was very beautiful and loved by all, most especially by her husband, the chieftain Damon.
When Dymphna was fourteen years old, her mother became ill and died. Damon was so torn by grief for his dead wife that he became mentally ill and lost all reason. In an attempt to bring him out of his madness and grief, his advisors recommended that he find another, as beautiful and good as his late wife to marry.
Damon sent representatives throughout the country, searching for one who was beautiful, good and would consent to marry him. No-one could be found. Then Damon saw Dymphna walking by and realised that she was the perfect replacement for his wife. He decided to marry his daughter. Dymphna was horrified by this suggestion, and refused. She fought off her maddened father and fled the castle with Gerebran.
They made their way across the sea to Belgium, hoping to elude Damon's search. But following their trail, Damon caught up with them in Gheel. He had Father Gerebran beheaded and repeated his demand that Dymphna marry him. When she refused, he drew his sword in a rage and struck off her head. She was barely fifteen when she was martyred in defense of her purity and chastity.
The spot where Gerebran and Dymphna were killed became a shrine, and Saint Dymphna is invoked as the patron of those suffering from nervous and mental illnesses. Treatment centres and a fraternity under her name sprang up around the place. A church bearing her name was consecrated in 1532, and still stands today.
Saint Dymphna faced mental illness in a horrifying form, and remained faithful to her beliefs, her purity and her love for Christ. She is a powerful intercessor and a wonderful example to us all.
Saint Dymphna is another of those saints whose veneration seems to have preceeded her biography, so it is difficult to determine the actual facts of her life and martyrdom. Historians tend to discount her narrative because it is a variation of a common legend, that of a grief-stricken king seeking to marry his own daughter. In some tales, it is to preserve his kingdom, in others it is an attempt to replace a beloved wife with as close a copy as possible. It is not clear as to when Saint Dymphna lived but since her mother was reported to have been a Christian, it must have been after the fourth century when Saint Patrick Christianised Ireland.
The earliest accounts of the veneration of Saint Dymphna dated from the middle of the thirteenth century. A 'Vita' of the saint reports that she had been venerated for many years in a church dedicated to her at Gheel, a province of Antwerp, Belgium. the author states that the life of this saint is taken from local oral history.
At this church, there are small pieces of two sacrophagi in which the same tradition states the bodies of Dymphna and her companion priest, killed at the same time, were buried. A brick bearing the inscription DYMPHNA is also stored there. These may be the source of the legend and veneration rather than proof of it.
The devotion and veneration of Saint Dymphna has persisted for many hundreds of years. When the 'old' church of Saint Dymphna in Gheel was destroyed by fire in 1489, it was replaced by a 'new' church which was consecrated in 1532. Miraculous cures of mental illnesses and epilepsy have taken place at her shrine, treatment centres for the mentally ill have had great success.
So despite a lack of firm evidence of her earthly existence, it seems reasonable to conclude that she has a Heavenly existence, and can intercede for us to Our Heavenly Father.
Hear us, O God, our Savior, as we honour Saint Dymphna, patron of those afflicted with mental and emotional illness. Help us to be inspired by her example and comforted by her merciful help. Amen.
Other sources of information about Saint Dymphna can be found at:
The Catholic Encyclopedia
Catholic Online Saints and Angels
The Saint Joseph Software Patron Saints Index Topic List