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.
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.