patron

St. Dymphna of Gheel

Many people know St. Dymphna of Gheel as the patroness of people struggling with mental illness. Few seem to know her background or why she is named such.

There are various legends surrounding the story of Dymphna, but the core narrative is this: She was the daughter of a pagan chieftain in Ireland in the 7th Century. Her mother, who had been a Christian and had baptized Dymphna, died when her daughter was 14.   Her father was devastated and had a long period of protracted grief.  After a fruitless search for a second wife, his attention fell on Dymphna. Her resemblance to his beloved dead wife, coupled with his emotional and mental struggle after his wife’s death, drove him to entreat her to marry him herself. Horrified, Dymphna fled with her confessor, an elderly priest by the name of Gerebran, to the city of Gheel in Belgium.

Unfortunately, her father pursued her and found her. His men murdered Gerebran and then, when Dymphna refused to go with him, he beheaded her. 

Dymphna’s refusal to participate in this incestuous relationship led to her martyrdom. She has been named patroness of people with mental and emotional difficulties – not only because of the toll that her father’s mental illness took on her family but because of her own emotional and mental anguish.

Dymphna was buried in Gheel. When her body was discovered in the 13th century, cures and miracles were being attributed to her, especially for people with epilepsy and people with mental illness. 

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