St. Dymphna

About St Dymphna

St. Dymphna with sword
Image of St. Dymphna witha sword and abook

St. Dymphna was a seventh century Irish virgin martyr. She was 15 (in about 620) when she lost her life spurning the incestuous advances of her father who insisted on marrying her to replace her deceased mother. When she learned of his plan, she fled from Ireland to Gheel, Belgium, but he found her there and beheaded her when she would not cooperate with him.

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.

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More About Saint Dymphna

St. Dymphna with book
Image of St. Dymphna holding a book with a symbol of the trinity, a shamrock, on the cover

St. Dymphna, a beautiful, young Irish princess from the 7th century, is most commonly known as the patron saint of those with nervous and emotional disorders. With many miracles attributed to her intercession, particularly at the site of her martyrdom, many people facing the challenges of mental illness seek her as a source of prayer, comfort, and reassurance that they are in God’s hands.

St. Dymphna was born in the 7th century to a pagan king, Damon, and his Christian wife. It is said that St. Dymphna’s mother was very beautiful, and when she died at a young age, Damon was inconsolable. The king’s court tried to come up with a solution that would help him to deal with his grief and be happy again. They suggested he remarry, and he decided this was a great idea – but only if the woman was as beautiful as his first wife had been. Damon and his court searched far and wide for a woman whose beauty would equal that of St. Dymphna’s mother; however, they were unable to find anyone.

The king’s inability to find a new wife weighed heavily on his mind. The more he searched and came up empty the worse his grief became. Consequently, his mental health began to suffer, and he started entertaining the possibility of marrying his daughter, St. Dymphna, the only woman whose beauty was comparable to her mother’s. St. Dymphna, then about age 15, refused her father’s advances. She had made a vow of virginity, pledging herself wholly to God, at age 14. She told her father she could not agree to his desire to marry her. When he became enraged at her rejection, St. Dymphna fled with her spiritual director, Fr. Gerebernus, to Belgium, where they thought they would be safe from the king’s violent anger.

St. Dymphna’s father was furious that his daughter had fled from him. Since St. Dymphna had not told anyone where she was going to, the king sent his court out to search for her. Her location was discovered when the king’s men came across an innkeeper who recognized the coins that they paid with as coins he had recently received as payment. At this time in history, foreign currency was not widely recognized, since long-distance travel was difficult and costly (which meant many people were unable to travel very far). Since the innkeeper remembered the coins of Damon’s kingdom, the king’s men knew St. Dymphna must be close. They sent word to the king that his daughter had been found.

st. Dymphna being beheaded
The beheading of St. Dumphna

Damon joined his men in the town of Gheel, Belgium, where St. Dymphna had been found. He tried to persuade St. Dymphna to join him as his wife, but again, she refused. The king ordered that his men kill Fr. Gerebernus and St. Dymphna as punishment for disobeying him. The men beheaded Fr. Gerebernus, but were unable to harm the princess. The king was overcome with fury, took his sword, and beheaded his own daughter.

The residents of the town of Gheel buried Fr. Gerebernus and St. Dymphna in a cave. They had grown to love St. Dymphna as a good and holy young woman who had taken care of the poor and sick while living in Gheel. Years later, the townspeople decided to give St. Dymphna and Fr. Gerebernus a more proper burial location. When they uncovered the cave where they had been buried, it was discovered that two stone sarcophagi now enclosed their bodies. One of these was marked with a red tile labeled “Dymphna.” In 1349, a church was built in honor of St. Dymphna in Gheel. Those who visited the church (which was at the site of her martyrdom), reported many miraculous healings, particularly of those afflicted with epilepsy and mental illness. When this church burned in the late 15th century, a new church was built in her honor. Dedicated in 1532, the Church of St. Dymphna has been a popular site of pilgrimage for those suffering from mental, nervous, or emotional illness for hundreds of years. Her feast day is celebrated on May 15.

Patronage of St. Dymphna

St. Dymphna is the patron saint of those with epilepsy, incest victims, those who have lost their parents, mental health caregivers and professionals, those suffering from emotional, nervous, or mental illness, rape and sexual abuse victims and runaways. Because of the miraculous healings and events that have taken place at her burial site, in addition to those reported by those who seek her intercession in prayer, St. Dymphna is a popular saint among those whose lives have been affected by mental health challenges (this includes not only the person suffering from mental illness, but their family, friends, and treatment professionals, as well).

St. Dymphna in Art

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.

St. Dymphna Prayers

St. Dymphna Icon
Icon featuring the image of St. Dymphna

Prayer for the Intercession of Saint Dymphna, Patron of Mental Illness

Lord God, Who has graciously chosen Saint 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 You to accept and grant the prayers of Saint Dymphna on our behalf. Grant to those we have particularly recommended patience in their sufferings and resignation to Your Divine Will. Fill them with hope and, if it is according to Your Divine Plan, bestow upon them the cure they so earnestly desire. Grant this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Prayer to St. Dymphna

Almighty and loving Father, by the example of St. Dymphna, Virgin and martyr, and by her intercession protect all those afflicted by tension and emotional stress, to enjoy your protection in life, and eternal happiness in your presence now and forever. Through Christ, our Lord, I ask. Amen.

Prayer to St. Dymphna

Good Saint Dymphna, great wonder-worker in every affliction of mind and body, I humbly implore your powerful intercession with Jesus through Mary, the Health of the Sick, in my present need. (Mention it.) Saint Dymphna, martyr of purity, patroness of those who suffer with nervous and mental afflictions, beloved child of Jesus and Mary, pray to Them for me and obtain my request.

(Pray one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Glory Be.)

Saint Dymphna, Virgin and Martyr, pray for us.

A Prayer to God in Honor of St. Dymphna

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. I recommend to You in particular (here mention the names of those you wish to pray for).

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.

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