I’m a practicing Roman Catholic and religion plays a big part in my life. I attend church weekly with Mr. Squigglekins and try my best to observe Catholic traditions and rituals. When I found out there is a patron saint for the emotionally disturbed, mentally ill, and for people who work in the mental health professions, it made me excited. Her name is Saint Dymphna and she has an intriguing, but tragic backstory.
Dymphna was the daughter of an Irish Pagan King and devoted Christian mother. At fourteen, she consecrated herself to Christ and took a vow of chastity. Her mother shortly died after, which caused her father immense grief and his mental decline. He traveled all over the Western world to find someone as beautiful as his late wife, but to no avail. When he came back home, he found that his daughter was just as beautiful as his wife and made advances toward her. She fought him and escaped with an elderly priest and family friend, Gerebernus, to Geel, Belgium. Her father searched for them in Belgium and found them. The elderly priest, Gerebernus, was beheaded and she was murdered by her father’s sword for refusing to surrender to him.
After Dymphna and Gerebernus were martyred, the residents of Geel buried her at a nearby cave. Years later they moved their remains to a more suitable place. Some of St. Dymphna’s remains were transferred over to the Shrine of St. Dymphna in Ohio, United States.
My favorite aspect of St. Dymphna is the centuries old tradition of citizens in Geel, Belgium taking in the mentally ill and disabled as guests or boarders in her honor. Instead of treating the mentally ill as “untouchable” or different, they treat them like family. They take care of them and in return the borders do chores around the home. The citizens don’t see this as therapy, but rather family care.
I never had a saint that I sincerely admired until I discovered St. Dymphna because she is the patron saint of mental health issues and occupations. In addition, she stood up to her amorous father who wanted to marry her. I see this as one of the earliest stories of female empowerment.
More Quick Facts:
Feast Day: May 15
Miracles: The place where is died is known for its miraculous healing of the insane and possessed.
Other Patronage: victims of sexual assault, victims of incest, victims of rape, runaways, loss of parents, sleepwalkers, and epilepsy.
Here is A Prayer to St. Dymphna for anyone interested.
Good Saint Dymphna, great wonder-worker in every affliction of mind and body, I humbly implore your powerful intercession with Jesus through Mary, the Health of the Sick, in my present need. (Mention it.) Saint Dymphna, martyr of purity, patroness of those who suffer with nervous and mental afflictions, beloved child of Jesus and Mary, pray to Them for me and obtain my request.
(Pray one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Glory Be.)
Saint Dymphna, Virgin and Martyr, pray for us.
Photo by: Gerard Seghers [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons