Happy Feast

Today is the feast of St. Dymphna, patron saint of mental illness and nervous disorders. As you can well imagine, I have long been intrigued by her cult and once made a pilgrimage to her shrine in Geel, Belgium. Obviously, it did not do much good!

Dymphna was the daughter of a pagan Irish king and a Christian woman. When her mother died, her father said he would only marry a woman as beautiful as his deceased wife and the only woman who fit the bill was his daughter. Horrified, she fled with her priest, Father Gereburnus, to the mainland. Her father tracked them down and beheaded her in the town where her shrine is today. In the Middle Ages, a hospital was built to care for the mentally infirm in the town and her cult became associated with the humane treatment of the mentally ill ever since.

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here