LOVE, COMPASSION, AND HEALING
Saint Dymphna is the patron saint of mental illness, nervous disorders, and sexual abuse/rape survivors, as well as the patron of those who treat such disorders and issues, e.g. counselors, psychologists, therapists, psychiatrists, and neurologists.
Dymphna was born in Ireland in the 7th century to a Catholic mother and a pagan father, Damon, the King of Oriel. Shortly after Dymphna devoted herself to Catholicism and took a vow of chastity, her mother died. Her grieving father was thwarted in his efforts to make Dymphna her mother’s replacement when Dymphna escaped to the town of Geel, in what is now known as present-day Belgium. Along with the help of her traveling companions — her spiritual adviser Father Gerebernus, two of her trusted servants, and a court jester — she set about creating a hospice for the indigent and mentally ill. The royal money Dymphna used for the hospice was traced back to her in Geel and her father was soon “in hot pursuit.” (You see, I can write that phrase down, but in my head it is always Sheriff Buford T. Justice saying it. Anyway, enough of this levity, let’s get back to our story, shall we?) Upon his arrival in Geel, the king had Father Gerebernus beheaded and when Dymphna refused to return to Ireland and be his bride, the king then took Dymphna’s head as well.
Dymphna died when she was only fifteen years old, but she accomplished so much in that short time, and through her gifts so many have been afforded new and happier lives. Her work continues to this day in Geel. The townspeople of Geel’s approach to dealing with mental illness is beautiful and inspiring. I urge you to listen to this podcast from NPR; It will change the way you think about mental illness and the way it is treated.
Dymphna is often pictured in white and green with a red head scarf, and in her left hand she is holding a book with a shamrock on it and white lilies in the crook of her right arm. Oddly enough, she is also frequently pictured wearing a blue and white dress with a red shawl or royal robe around her shoulders and holding a sword. I personally find the sword iconography off-putting, due to the way she died, and therefore much prefer the book and lilies version.
Saint Dymphna’s feast day is May 15th. Her colors are white, green, and blue and she enjoys candles, flowers, and contributions to organizations that support the mentally ill and victims of incest, rape, or other types of abuse. Should you decide you want to work with Saint Dymphna in more of an ongoing fashion, becoming a sponsor for the National Shrine of St. Dymphna is a great way to begin.
Should you need to ask Saint Dymphna for help, the following prayer can get you started:
Oh, blessed Saint Dymphna, I appeal to you with a despairing heart and anguished mind. I turn to you, dear virgin and martyr, confident of your power with God and of your willingness to help. May the Lord have pity upon me, commanding this sickness to depart and leaving in its place restored mental health. Pray for me, dear Saint Dymphna, that my turmoil may cease and that I may know serenity, peace, and freedom once again. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, these things I ask. Amen.
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