St. Dymphna was the daughter of a Celtic chieftain, Damon, and his beautiful wife, a devoted Christian. Damon loved and admired his holy wife, who was popular and beloved amongst their people. She raised Dymphna as a Christian. In her spiritual development, Dymphna had a friend and confidant, an elderly priest named, Gerebran.
Tradition tells this story of Dymphna’s martyrdom: When she was fourteen, her mother died. Her father, Damon, fell into a state of mental illness brought on by grief from his wife’s passing. To help bring Damon out of his grief and illness, his advisers recommended he find another wife.
A search began to find another righteous, noble, and beautiful woman who would consent to marry Damon. Unfortunately no one could be found and Damon goaded by evil advisers to marry his daughter, Dymphna because she was as pure and beautiful as her mother. Horrified by the idea of this union, Dymphna vehemently refused and fought off her insanity-ridden father. With the assistance of her priest, Gerebran, Dymphna fled the castle and headed across the sea to Belgium. Damon found them in Gheel and had Gerebran beheaded.
The mad chieftain again attempted to persuade her to return with him to Ireland. Again Dymphna refused. In a fit of rage, Damon drew his sword and cut off Dymphna’s head. Dymphna was fifteen years old. Circa 620, Dymphna received the crown of martyrdom in defense of her purity and chastity.
In Gheel, Belgium, the spot where Dymphna and Gerebran were murdered has become a holy shrine. Fragments of two sarcophagi and a block bearing Dymphna’s name are at the shrine. Countless miracles have taken place at this shrine and as the result of invocations to St. Dymphna. A fire destroyed an old church of St. Dymphna in Gheel in 1489. A new church was consecrated in 1532 and still stands.
Dymphna is the patron saint of those suffering from mental and emotional illnesses, and sometimes referred to as the Patroness of Abuse and Incest Victims. Highly successful treatment centers for the emotionally disturbed and fraternities are named for St. Dymphna.
St. Dymphna’s Feast Day is May 15. Every year on her feast day and on the Tuesday after Pentecost, pilgrims visit her shrine in Gheel. In art, Dymphna is often depicted with a sword in her hand and a fettered devil at her feet. St. Dymphna is an encouragement to all who face and deal with emotional and mental illness, stress, tension, frustration, abuse and incest. As a victim of one possessed by insanity, Dymphna remained faithful to her beliefs, her purity, and her love for God and Jesus Christ.
Prayers to St. Dymphna are potent and have been proven to result in miracles, because she is a powerful intercessor for those who invoke her help and guidance.