St. Dymphna was born in Ireland around the seventh century. Her mother was a devout Christian, but her father was a pagan. When Dymphna was 14, she consecrated herself to the Lord, and took a vow of chastity. Shortly afterwards, her mother died, and her father, Damon, who had loved his wife deeply, began to spiral into mental illness.
Damon’s advisors suggested he remarry, and he agreed, if he could find a woman as beautiful as she had been. He sent messengers into the nearby towns to find such a woman, but they were unsuccessful. Damon’s advisors then suggested that he marry his own daughter. At this point, Damon’s mental health was so deteriorated that he only saw his beloved wife when he looked at his daughter, so he agreed.
Dymphna fled her home with her confessor, the priest Gerebran, two trusted servants, and the king’s fool. They sailed to present-day Belgium, and hid in the town of Geel.
According to legend, Dymphna settled in the town and built a hospital for the poor. But when she used her wealth, her father discovered where she was. He traveled to Geel and kidnapped Dymphna and her companion, and ordered Gerebran killed.
Damon then tried to convince his daughter to return to Ireland and marry him. When she refused, he cut off her head and left her body there. Dymphna was 15 years old.
The residents of Geel collected the remains of Dymphna and Gerebran and laid them to rest in a cave.
Around the year 620, Dymphna became known as a martyr because she died rather than break her vow to God, and was called “the Lily of Eire.” In 1349, a church honoring her was built in Geel, and by 1480, so many pilgrims seeking treatment for mental illness had come that the church had to be expanded. This began a tradition of townspeople caring for the mentally ill that continues to this day.
Many miracles have taken place at St. Dymphna’s shrine at the church that stands there today, the Church of St. Dymphna, consecrated in 1532.
St. Dymphna is the patroness of people suffering from nervous and mental afflictions, as well as victims of incest.