The month of Mary: A Marian Month
Saint of the day:
Patron Saint of those suffering for nervous and mental afflictions
The Story of St. Dymphna
Dymphna was the only child of a pagan king who is believed to have ruled a section of Ireland in the 7th century. She was the very picture of her attractive young Christian mother.
When the queen died at a very young age, the royal widower’s heart remained beyond reach of comfort. His moody silences pushed him on the verge of mental collapse. His courtiers suggested he consider a second marriage. The king agreed on condition that his new bride should look exactly like his former one.
His envoys went far a field in search of the woman he desired. The quest proved fruitless. Then one of them had a brilliant idea: Why shouldn’t the king marry his daughter, the living likeness of her mother?
Repelled at first, the king then agreed. He broached the topic to his daughter. Dymphna, appalled, stood firm as a rock. “Definitely not.” By the advice of St. Gerebern, her confessor, she eventually fled from home to avoid the danger of her refusal.
A group of four set out across the sea – Father Gerebern, Dymphna, the court jester and his wife. On landing at Antwerp, on the coast of Belgium, they looked around for a residence. In the little village of Gheel, they settled near a shrine dedicated to St. Martin of Tours.
Then spies from her native land arrived in Gheel and paid their inn fees with coins similar to those Dymphna had often handed to the innkeeper. Unaware that the men were spies, he innocently revealed to them where she lived.
The king came at once to Gheel for the final, tragic encounter. Despite his inner fury, he managed to control his anger. Again he coaxed, pleased, made glowing promises of money and prestige. When this approach failed, he tried threats and insults; but these too left Dymphna unmoved. She would rather die than break the vow of virginity she had made with her confessor’s approval.
In his fury, the king ordered his men to kill Father Gerebern and Dymphna. They killed the priest but could not harm the young princess.
The king then leaped from his seat and with his own weapon cut off his daughter’s head. Dymphna fell at his feet. Thus Dymphna, barely aged fifteen, died. Her name appears in the Roman Martyrology, together with St. Gerebern’s on May 15.
In the town of Gheel, in the Flemish-speaking region of Belgium, great honor is paid to St. Dymphna, whose body is preserved in a silver reliquary in the church which bears her name. Gheel has long been known as a place of pilgrimage for persons seeking relief or nervous or emotional distresses. In our century, the name of St. Dymphna as the heavenly intercessor for such benefits is increasingly venerated in America.
Hear us, O God, Our Saviour, as we honor St. Dymphna,
patron of those afflicted with mental and emotional illness.
Help us to be inspired by her example and comforted by her merciful help.
St. Dymphna Church, Geel, Belgium
The remains of Dymphna were later put into a silver reliquary and placed in a church in Geel named in her honor. The remains of Gerebernus were moved to Xanten, Germany. During the late 15th century the original St. Dymphna Church in Geel burned down. A second "Church of St. Dymphna" was then built and consecrated in 1532. The church still stands on the site where her body is believed to have first been buried.
According to tradition, miracles occurred immediately after her tomb was discovered. A number of people with epilepsy, mental illness or to have been 'under evil influence' who visited the tomb of Dymphna were said to have been cured. The saint is invoked as patroness against mental illness.
Saint Dymphna's feast day is 15 May.
Dymphna is known as the Lily of Éire, due to her spotless virtue. She is traditionally portrayed wearing a crown, dressed in ermine and royal robes, and holding a sword. In modern versions she holds the sword awkwardly, as it symbolises her martyrdom, but in the older versions seen on numerous statues and stained glass images, her sword is pricking the neck of a demon; symbolising her title of Demon Slayer. She is also often portrayed holding a lamp, with the chained devil at her feet.
Some modern holy cards portray Dymphna in green and white, holding a book and white lilies.
In 1349 a church honoring Dymphna was built in Geel. By 1480, so many pilgrims were coming from all over Europe, seeking treatment for the mentally ill, that the church housing for them was expanded. Soon the sanctuary for the mad was again full to overflowing, and the townspeople began taking them into their own homes. Thus began a tradition for the ongoing care of the mentally ill that has endured for over 500 years and is still studied and envied today. Patients were, and still are, taken into the inhabitants of Geel's homes. Never called patients, they are called boarders, and are treated as ordinary and useful members of the town. They are treated as members of the host family. They work, most often in menial labour, and in return, they become part of the community. Some stay a few months, some decades, some for their entire lives. At its peak in the 1930s, over 4,000 'boarders' were housed with the town's inhabitants.
St. Dymphna feast in Geel, Belgium
What to eat:
Steak & Chips!
Lots and lots of chips!