Dymphna of Gheel (Feast Day May 15) is patron of
mental health caregivers • psychiatrists & therapists • family happiness • incest & rape victims • mental institutions • mental & neurological disorders • chemical dependency • runaways • sleepwalkers
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St. Dymphna (or Dympna or Dimpna) is often regarded as an Irish saint, but “Celtic” would be more accurate, as she practiced her good works in Belgium and is known as Dymphna of Gheel (or Geel).
According to tradition, she was born in the 7th century to a pagan Irish king and a Christian princess. Her mother, who died when Dymphna was very young, had secured a promise from the king that their daughter would be raised as a Christian. The king, infatuated with his wife’s great beauty, agreed.
Dymphna not only grew into a devout and beautiful young woman. Unfortunately, her resemblance to her dead mother eventually drove her father to madness, resulting in his trying to take Dymphna as his wife. Her confessor, Gerebernus (later a saint himself), advised her to flee as far away as possible and said he would go with her. So, along with the court jester and his wife, they sailed to Antwerp, Belgium. They then traveled until they reached a small oratory dedicated to Saint Martin on the site of the present-day town of Gheel. They decided to settle there, and Dymphna soon earned a reputation for holiness because of her great devotion to the poor and suffering.
Meanwhile, Dympna’s father was furiously pursuing her. His spies finally traced the group’s whereabouts, perhaps by their use of foreign coins (including those they’d given to the poor). The king tried to persuade her to return to Ireland, but when she refused, he commanded his servants to slay her companions, while he himself struck off the head of his daughter.
In the early 13th century, the bones of an unknown man and woman were discovered at Gheel. The name Dympna was found on a brick with the two ancient, marble coffins. It was determined that this was the site of her martyrdom and it soon became known for its miraculous healings of nervous diseases and mental disorders. Mentally afflicted persons were brought to this shrine by relatives and friends, many from a far distance. Gradually patients were cared-for in the homes of local families. From this practice evolved a world-renowned institution where most patients stay with families and live relatively normal lives.
Her feast day is celebrated in Ireland and Belgium. In the United States, there is a national shrine in Massillon, Ohio.
To read about the legends, beliefs and traditions and connections surrounding St. Dymphna, follow the links below.
The National Shrine of St. Dymphna is located on the grounds of the Heartland Behavioral Healthcare (Massillon, Ohio) and was the first Church in America dedicated in her honor.
Please note: These links may not be up-to-date. Feel free to let us know about any that need adding, removing or changing.