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Dympna

(fl. c. 569—630) martyr


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(7th century (?),

martyr. Her cult is an excellent example of the relics and shrine of considerable antiquity of a saint, under whose patronage admirable work for the unfortunate has been and still is accomplished. But this is linked with an almost complete dearth of historical knowledge. The Legend of Dympna seems almost pure folklore. According to this source she was the daughter of a Celtic or British king; her mother died when she was a child; when she grew up she looked extremely like her mother; her father fell in love with her, and to escape his incestuous intentions she fled with her confessor St Gerebernus to Antwerp and then to Gheel (twenty-five miles away). Her father pursued them, tracing them by coins they had used, and found them living as solitaries. When they refused to return, the attendants killed the priest and the king killed his daughter. Both bodies were buried on the spot: they were translated in the 13th century, an event marked by numerous cures of epileptics and lunatics. This was the reason why she became patroness of the insane. From then onwards the town of Gheel has had a splendid record in the care of the mentally ill; in modern times it has been among the pioneers of their residence and supervision in the homes of farmers and other local residents. Feast: 30 May, formerly 15 May.

AA.SS. Maii III (1680), 477–97;H. Delehaye, The Legends of the Saints (1962), pp. 8, 77, 124;B.L.S., v. 169. See also M. Warner, The Beast and the Blonde (1995).

Subjects: Christianity.


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