Saint Dympna, Virgin and Martyr

May  15

Today is the feast day of Saint Dympna.  Ora pro nobis.

Saint Dympna (Dymphna) was born the daughter of an Irish pagan chief and his Christian wife. Dymphna, like her mother, was blessed with grace, beauty, and virtue, and under the tutelage of local women, grew in her Christian faith. Baptized by a local priest, Father Garabran, Dymphna spent her days in pious reflection and prayer. Dymphna was a bright and eager pupil, and advanced rapidly in wisdom and grace. When still very young, being filled with fervor and love for Jesus Christ, Dymphna chose Him for her Divine Spouse and consecrated her virginity to Him and to His Blessed Mother by a vow of chastity. (3)

By Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

 “In Brabant, the memory of the holy virgin and martyr Dympna, the daughter of an Irish king, who was beheaded by order of her father for having confessed the Christian faith and preserving her virginity.” This notice is today in the Roman Martyrology. St. Dympna was a royal princess, her father was a pagan, but her mother a Christian; she was baptized without the knowledge of the father as soon as she had become old enough to understand the truth of the Christian faith. From that hour she renounced all worldiy pleasures, honors and riches, and aspired only after heavenly treasures. Soon after she also consecrated her virginity to God by vow in consideration of the priceless worth of virginal chastity. After her mother’s death her father desired to marry again as he, however, believed that there was not a more beautiful princess than Dympna, he conceived the unheard-of thought of marrying his own daughter. Dympna was horrified at such an incestuous demand, and reproving her father for his design, said that such godlessness had not been heard of since the world was created. Her father, however, persisted and pursued her with flatteries, caresses and promises and finally with menaces.

Dympna told him fearlessly that she was a Christian and had vowed to remain a virgin, but that even if this were not the case, she would die rather than consent to his desire. She pictured to him, with unanswerable eloquence, the terrible scandal he thought of giving to his subjects, the indescribable infamy of the vice, the presence of God, the account he had to render before the throne of the Almighty, the horror of dying in sin, and finally a whole eternity in the unending torments of hell. But the father, blinded by his passion and deaf to all her remonstrances, was not frightened, but said to her, full of rage: “You shall be obedient to my wishes, I demand it of you, and it shall be as I say.” The chaste princess fearing that he might use violence, raised her eyes towards Heaven and calling on the Almighty more with sighs and tears than words, she said to her father: “If I must obey you, grant me a delay of forty days.” The wicked father was content, not imagining the intention of the chaste princess. Dympna immediately sought the advice of Geribert, a very pious priest, who had baptized her, and asked him what she should do in this terrible emergency. The priest said that the only means to save herself was by flight, and that he would safely conduct her to some other land. This answer quieted her. Providing herself with money, she changed her clothes, and leaving her father’s palace, accompanied by the priest and a faithful servant, went on board a boat, and under the guidance of the Almighty, arrived happily at Antwerp. Thence she went to Gheel, a village not far off, where she had two huts built, one for herself, the other for the priest, and lived more an angelic than a human life.

The father, on being informed of his daughter’s flight, stormed and raged like a maniac, and sent his servants to search everywhere for her. As, however, all their endeavors were fruitless, he went himself, with several servants, on board of a ship and directed by Providence, landed at Antwerp. He then again directed his servants to all the neighboring villages to inquire for his daughter. Two of them came to the inn from which Dympna sometimes procured her food. When they paid for their dinner which they had taken there, the inn-keeper, looking at the money they gave him, said: “I have often seen such money as this, but do not know its exact value.” The servants, surprised at these words, asked of whom he had received it, and inkeeper revealed to them what he knew. Supposing that the stranger was she whom they were seeking, and having learned where she lived, they hastened to the king, and made him acquainted with what they had heard.

The king, rejoicing at the news, went without delay to the indicated place, where he found his daughter. At first, Dympna became pale with fear when she saw her father, but raising her heart to God, she was filled with heroic firmness. The king reproaching her with her flight, repeated his former wicked desire, commanding the Geribert to advise Dympna to consent. “What,” exclaimed the pious priest; “you expect me to advise her to commit so horrible a crime! I had rather die a thousand deaths. I, however, advise, admonish, nay, command you, O King, in the name of the Most High, to abstain from your godless design that you may not draw upon yourself the vengeance of heaven.”

The King, incensed beyond endurance at these words, dragged the priest out of the room, and had him cut to pieces. He then again pressed his daughter, not only with flatteries and caresses, but also with the most frightful threats, to assent to his wishes. As she, however, more heroically than ever resisted him, and with her eyes raised to heaven, repeated that she much preferred death to such a life, he became enraged to such a degree, that he commanded his servant to behead her, not only because she was a Christian, but also for not obeying her father. Others say that the father himself murdered her, as his servants refused to commit the crime. Be this as it may, however, it is certain that she ended her life by the sword. The murderer, leaving the two bodies swimming in blood, departed; but the inhabitants of the neighboring villages respectfully buried them, and as God soon honored their graves with miracles, the clergy determined to exhume the holy remains.

When they began to remove the earth they came to two coffins of white marble, which seem to be made by human but by angelic hands. In one reposed the body of St. Geribert, which they brought first to the city of Xanthen, and later to Santbeck, in the Dutchy of Cleves. In the other where the remains of St. Dympna and a purple precious stone upon which the word Dympna was written in distinct letters. Her body remained at Gheel until, after some years, the Bishop of Cambray again disinterred it, and placing the relics of the Saint in a casket wrought of gold and silver and ornamented with precious stones, deposited it in a church built to the memory of St. Dympna. This holy virgin and martyr is represented as holding the Evil Spirit bound in chains, to show how great a power God gave her over evil spirits, as at her tomb many that were possessed were released. (2)

A colony for those suffering from emotional afflictions was established at Gheel, and even today, as many as 1500 patients pilgrimage there for treatment and cure. At Gheel, the ill are treated with compassion and love, living among the people under observation, allowed to work in the fields, and given lodging by the community. The treatment results are very positive, though the intercession of Saint Dymphna. (3)

In Christian art St. Dymphna is depicted with a sword in her hand and a fettered devil at her feet. (4)


Lord, Jesus Christ, Thou hast willed that St. Dymphna should be invoked by thousands of clients as the patroness of nervous and mental disease and 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. 
I recommend to Thee in particular . . . (Here mention those you wish to pray for)

Be pleased to hear the prayers of St. Dymphna and of Thy Blessed Mother, Health of the Sick and Comforter of the afflicted, on behalf of those whom I recommend to the care and compassion of Thy Sacred Heart. Give them the patience to bear with their affliction and resignation to do Thy Divine Will.

Give them the consolation they need and especially the cure they so much desire, if it be Thy Will. May we all serve Thy suffering members in that charity which may merit for us the reward of being united in Heaven with Thee, Our Divine Head, Who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, forever, Amen.


        Lord God, Who has graciously chosen St. Dymphna to be the 
 patroness of those afflicted with mental and nervous disorders, and 
 has caused her to be an inspiration and a symbol of charity to the 
 thousands who invoke her intercession, grant through the prayers of 
 this pure, youthful martyr, relief and consolation to all who suffer 
 from these disturbances, and especially to those for whom we now 
 pray. (Here mention those for whom you wish to pray.) 
We beg Thee to accept and grant the prayers of St. Dymphna on our 
 behalf. Grant to those we have particularly recommended patience in 
 their sufferings and resignation to Thy Divine Will. Fill them with 
 hope and, if it is according to Thy Divine Plan, bestow upon them 
 the cure they so earnestly desire. Grant this through Christ Our 
 Lord. Amen. (6)

Image: Crop of The beheading of Saint Dymphna, artist: Godfried Maes. circa 1688. (5)







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