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Saint Dymphna
St Dymphna.jpg
Saint Dymphna: image from holy card
The Lily of Éire
Born 7th century
Died 7th century
Gheel, Belgium
Honored in Roman Catholic Church,
Eastern Orthodox Church
Feast 15 May
Attributes crown, sword, lily, lamp, princess with a sword meaning - a killer of demons at her feet.
Patronage mental disorders, neurological disorders, runaways, victims of incest

Saint Dymphna (also: Dympna, Dimpna) was the daughter of a pagan Irish king and his Christian wife in the 7th century AD. She was murdered by her father. The story of St. Dymphna was first recorded in the thirteenth century by a canon of the Church of St. Aubert at Cambrai, commissioned by the Bishop of Cambrai, Guy I (1238–1247 AD). The author expressly states that his writings were based upon a longstanding oral tradition and a persuasive history of inexplicable and miraculous healings of the mentally ill.[1]

Life and death[edit]

Dymphna was born in Ireland during the 7th century. Dymphna's father Damon, a petty king of Oriel, was pagan, but her mother was a devout Christian. When Dymphna was 14 years old, her mother died. Damon had loved his wife deeply, and in the aftermath of her death his mental health sharply deteriorated. When at length he decided to remarry, Damon sought to find a woman who resembled his deceased wife. When no such woman could be found, Damon began to desire his daughter, because of the strong resemblance she bore to her mother. When Dymphna learned of her father's intentions she fled his court along with her confessor Father Gerebernus and two trusted servants. Together they sailed towards the continent, eventually landing in Belgium, where they took refuge in the town of Gheel.

One tradition states that once settled in Gheel, St. Dymphna built a hospice for the poor and sick of the region. Ironically, however, it was through the use of her wealth that her father would eventually ascertain her whereabouts, as some of the coins used enabled her father to trace them to Belgium.[2] Damon sent his agents to pursue his daughter and her companions. When their hiding place was discovered, Damon travelled to Gheel to recover his daughter. Damon ordered his soldiers to kill Father Gerebernus and tried to force Dymphna to return with him to Ireland, but she resisted. Furious, Damon drew his sword and struck off his daughter's head. She was 15 years old when she died.[3] After Dymphna and Gerebernus were martyred, the residents of Gheel buried them in a nearby cave. Years later, they decided to move the remains to a more suitable location. According to tradition, when workmen entered the cave to retrieve the two bodies they found that the bones of Dymphna and Gerebernus had been miraculously interred in two stone sarcophagi,[4] one of which bore a red tile with the inscription "DYMPHNA."

Medieval traditions[edit]

The historical basis for this story is uncertain. There are variations in the legend and it has counterparts in the folktales of many European countries, such as The King Who Wished to Marry His Daughter and Donkeyskin. The events of Saint Dymphna's life may have become entwined with these myths in the centuries after her death when her story was told orally.


St-Dymphna Church, Gheel, Belgium

The remains of Saint Dymphna were later put into a silver reliquary and placed in the Gheel church named in her honour. The remains of Saint Gerebernus were moved to Xanten, Germany.[5] During the late 15th century the original St. Dymphna's Church in Gheel burned, and necessity obliged the erection of the magnificent "Church of St. Dymphna," which was consecrated in 1532 and now still stands on the site where her body was first buried.[2]

A phenomenon is said to have occurred immediately after the finding of the tombs. A number of people with epilepsy, mental illnesses and persons under evil influences who had visited at the tomb of Dymphna were cured. Ever since that time, she has been invoked on behalf of such people.[2]

St. Dymphna's feast day is 15 May.[6]


St. Dymphna is the patron saint of the nervous, emotionally disturbed, mentally ill, and those who suffer neurological disorders - and, consequently, of psychologists, psychiatrists, and neurologists. She is also the patron saint of victims of incest.[6]


The National Shrine of St. Dymphna is located in Massillon, Ohio.[4] St. Dymphna's Special School is located in Ballina County Mayo and operates under the patronage of Western Care Association.[7] St. Dymphna's Pub is located on St. Mark's Place, New York City.[8]

The character of Sir Humphrey Appleby from Yes, Minister spent his last days in St Dympna's Hospital for the Elderly Deranged.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Saint Dymphna: Wonderworker of Gheel, May 15th". Wagener, S.C.: Saints Mary and Martha Orthodox Monastery. January 2006. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c "St Dymphna", Archdiocese of Atlanta
  3. ^ Benedictine Convent Sisters, Clyde, Missouri, "Tabernacle and Purgatory" May 1946
  4. ^ a b National Shrine of St. Dymphna
  5. ^ Kirsch, J.P. (1909). "St. Dymphna". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 3 March 2012.
  6. ^ a b "St. Dymphna", Franciscan Mission Associates
  7. ^ St. Dymphna's Special School, Ballina
  8. ^ "Nightlife", New York Magazine

External links[edit]