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by Meredith Oesch

Today we are going to be telling the story of St. Dymphna. St. Dymphna was born during the 7th century in Ireland, to a pagan father and a very devout Christian mother. Her father was king Damon of Oriel at the time. St. Dymphna was an only child during her life. St. Dymphna's mother secretly raised her as christian and secretly baptized her, behind the back of her pagan father. 

St. Dymphna took after her mother right away. St. Dymphna was said to have looked just like her stunningly beautiful mother. She became a devout christian just like her mother. At the young age of 14 she decided to take a vow of chastity. 

Soon after her vow of chastity, St. Dymphna’s mother, the queen, passed away. While enduring the burden of mourning her mother’s death, St. Dymphna was faced with the challenge of dealing with her father’s deteriorating mental health. The widowed king’s heart was shattered upon the death of his queen and he did not cope well with this heartbreak. 

King Damon’s counselors were very aware of his deteriorating mental health and encouraged him to take a new bride, to hopefully stabilize him and mend his heart. He finally agreed upon the condition that his wife be very beautiful and look just as his late wife did. The fruitless search for a new bride commenced, but to no avail. 

After the searches for a new wife slowed, Damon set his eyes upon St. Dymphna, and he started to desire her. St. Dymphna soon learned of his intentions to marry her, remembering her vow of chastity to the Lord, she decided to evacuate her father’s court. She took her confessor and close confidant, Father Gerebernus, two servants, and the king’s fool and sailed to the mainland of the continent Europe. The group ended up landing in what is modern day Belgium. Here they stored away in the town of Gheel. 

Once the group was settled and felt safe in Gheel, St. Dymphna built a hospice for the poor and sick people of the region. It is said that it was her desire to help others that led to her downfall as it’s believed that her spending money to start these welfare programs was how her father tracked her down. Hearing of his marked coins being spent in belgium, Damon sent agents to trace his daughter and her companions. 

His agents eventually discovered their hiding place and upon being notified of this Damon set out to retrieve St. Dymphna. When he arrived he ordered soldiers to kill Father Gerebernus and to take Dymphna back to Ireland. St. Dymphna remained determined to live her life according to her own and God’s will and not her father’s and still refused to return. Damon, still as unstable mentally as when she had left, became furious with St. Dymphna. He, himself using a sword, beheaded his own daughter. 

St. Dymphna was only 15 at the time of her passing. After her father had killed her, the people of Geel who’s hearts she had deeply touched, buried her and Father Gerebernus in a nearby cave. A few years later they decided to give them a more proper burial. 

Though the story of St. Dymphna is a very sad and tragic one, it is one with great power. It is a story of great loss, great suffering, great betrayal. But it is also a story of great devotion, great risk, and great love. The way that St. Dymphna is steadfast in her love and devotion to Christ is truly so inspiring and something we should all strive to achieve. 

The story of Dymphna does not end there though. In 1349 a church honoring her was rectified in Geel. It’s reported that by the 1480s so many pilgrims were coming from all over Europe to seek treatment and miracles for psychiatric disorders that the church expanded housing for these pilgrims. These expansions didn’t even satisfy the demand for housing and local people started offering for pilgrims to stay in their homes. The tradition in Geel has lasted since, of helping and caring for those who suffer from mental illness. 

St. Dymphna’s memory lives on through her canonization as a saint in the catholic and orthodox churches. She is known as Lily of Eire due to her spotless virtue. She is traditionally portrayed wearing a crown, dressed in ermine and royal robes, and holding a sword, but in modern portrayals she holds a sword awkwardly to symbolize her martyrdom. She also holds the title of Demon Slayer.

She is the patron of mental illness and anxiety. 

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