The Catholic Defender: The St. Dymphna Story


I remember growing up my Mother had a devotion to St. Dymphna, she had a statue of her and so I became familiar with her story when I was in College and coming home to my Catholic roots.


Dymphna was born in Ireland sometime in the seventh century to a pagan king father (Damon) and devout Catholic mother.


When Dymphna was fourteen, she consecrated herself to Christ and took a vow of chastity. St. Dymphna, a beautiful, young Irish princess


St. Dymphna’s mother was very beautiful, and when she died at a young age, Damon was inconsolable.


Soon afterward, her mother died and her father - who had loved his wife deeply - began to suffer a rapid deterioration of his mental stability.


So unhinged was Dymphna's father, Damon, that the King's counselors suggested he remarry.


Though he was still grieving for his wife, he agreed to remarry if a woman as beautiful as she could be found.


Damon sent messengers throughout his town and other lands to find woman of noble birth who resembled his wife and would be willing to marry him, but when none could be found, his evil advisors whispered sinful suggestions to marry his own daughter.


So twisted were Damon's thoughts that he recognized only his wife when he looked upon Dymphna, and so he consented to the arrangement.

When Dymphna heard of her father's misguided plot, she fled her castle with her confessor, a priest named Gerebran, two trusted servants, and the king's fool. The group sailed toward what is modern day Belgium, and hid in the town of Geel.


Though it becomes uncertain what exactly happened next, the best-known version claims the group settled in Geel, where Dymphna built a hospital for the poor and sick, but in using her wealth, her father was able to discover her location.


When Damon found his daughter was in Belgium, he traveled to Geel and captured them. He ordered the priest's head to be separated from his body and attempted to convince Dymphna to return to Ireland and marry him.


The priest who had helped Dymphna was also sainted, and his remains were moved to Xanten, Germany.

The United States National Shrine of Saint Dymphna is at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Massillon, Ohio and St. Dymphna's Special School can be found in ballina, County Mayo, Republic of Ireland.

When Dymphna refused, Damon became enraged and drew his sword. He struck Dymphna's head from her shoulders and left her there.


When she died, Dymphna was only fifteen-years-old. After her father left Geel, the residents collected both Dymphna and Gerebran's remains and laid them to rest in a cave.


In defense of her purity, Dymphna received the crown of martyrdom around the year 620 and became known as the "Lily of Éire.


In 1349, a church honoring St. Dymphna was built in Geel, and by 1480, so many pilgrims were arriving in need of treatment for mental ills, that the church was expanded.


Many miracles have been proven to take place at her shrine in the church erected in her honor, and her remains were placed in a silver reliquary in the church.


Some of her remains can also be found at the Shrine to Saint Dymphna in the United States.

The expanded sanctuary was eventually overflowing again, leaving the townspeople to accept them into their homes, which began a tradition of care for the mentally ill that continues to this day.


Unfortunately, in the 15th century, the original St. Dymphna Church in Geel burned to the ground, and the magnificent Church of St. Dymphna was erected and consecrated in 1532, where it still stands above the location her body was originally buried.


Though it becomes uncertain what exactly happened next, the best-known version claims the group settled in Geel, where Dymphna built a hospital for the poor and sick, but in using her wealth, her father was able to discover her location.


When Damon found his daughter was in Belgium, he traveled to Geel and captured them. He ordered the priest's head to be separated from his body and attempted to convince Dymphna to return to Ireland and marry him.


Saint Dymphna is the patroness of those suffering nervous and mental afflictions as well as victims of incest.


Traditionally, Saint Dymphna is often portrayed with a crown on her head, dressed in royal robes, and holding a sword.


In modern art, Saint Dymphna is shown holding the sword, which symbolizes her martyrdom, quite awkwardly.


She is also often shown holding a lamp, while some holy cards feature her wearing green and white, holding a book and white lilies. White lilies symbolise purity and rebirth. The lamp reminds us of Jesus’ invitation to be the light of the world. The ten virgins with their lamps especially remind us of the community invited to dance for joy and celebrate the coming of the Bridegroom. It is the symbol of the Church called to wait joyfully for the coming of Christ. This symbol could remind us of the Jewish interpretation of the chorus of virgins in the Song of Songs: the disciples that carry the light of the Law (the Torah) and keep watch for the Messiah.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us* and persevere in running the race that lies before us.


While keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.


Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.


In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.


You have also forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons: Hebrew 12:1-5


Then I saw an angel come down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a heavy chain.

He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent, which is the Devil or Satan, and tied it up for a thousand years

and threw it into the abyss, which he locked over it and sealed, so that it could no longer lead the nations astray until the thousand years are completed. After this, it is to be released for a short time.


Then I saw thrones; those who sat on them were entrusted with judgment. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image nor had accepted its mark* on their foreheads or hands. They came to life and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. Revlation 10:1-4


There have been many reports of St. Dymphna miraculously curing the mental, emotional, and neurological afflictions of pilgrims to her burial site in Gheel. Based on these miracles and the story of her martyrdom, she was canonized in 1247 and named patron saint of the mentally ill. Her patronage also extends to incest and rape victims and runaways.


St. Dymphna is most often shown with a sword or lamp in her hand and a restrained devil at her feet. Her feast day is May 15.


Many representations of St. Dymphna have been created over time. Among these are the depiction of her martyrdom, as well as that of her dressed as a princess, in the clothing of royalty. When shown in this traditional way, she is usually wearing a crown, and is dressed in fine clothes, such as ermine and royal robes, and may be holding a sword, as a symbol of her martyrdom. More recent images of St. Dymphna show her with a bible in her hands (often with a shamrock on the front, as a reminder that she is Irish), as well as white lilies, a symbol of purity. In these images, St. Dymphna is dressed more simply, usually in a white and green dress, with a red/orange scarf on her head.


Lord Jesus Christ, You have willed that St. Dymphna should be invoked by thousands of clients as the patroness of nervous and mental disease and have brought it about that her interest in these patients should be an inspiration to and an ideal of charity throughout the world. Grant that, through the prayers of this youthful martyr of purity, those who suffer from nervous and mental illness everywhere on earth may be helped and consoled.

Be pleased to hear the prayers of St. Dymphna and of Your Blessed Mother. Give those whom I recommend the patience to bear with their affliction and resignation to do Your divine will. Give them the consolation they need and especially the cure they so much desire, if it be Your will. Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.


After my stroke, I went through several Neurological tests and have been totally restored. The Lord be praised!

Saint Dymphna, Virgin and Martyr, pray for us.