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Novena to St. Dymphna

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St. Dymphna

St. Dymphna is traditionally held to be the daughter of a pagan Irish chief and his Christian wife in the seventh century. When her mother died, her father Damon went to look for a suitable and equally beautiful replacement. After the search failed, his advisors pointed out to the chief that his teenage daughter had inherited her mother's looks. Driven mad by grief, Damon made advances on Dymphna. Together with her confessor, the elderly priest St. Gerebernus, she fled to Belgium. There they took refuge at a chapel near the present day site of Gheel, not far from Antwerp. However Damon's spies tracked them down and the chief set out after them. Confronting them at Gheel, he ordered his soldiers to slay Gerebernus and begged Dymphna to return with him to Ireland. When she refused, he decapitated her in a rage. Locals later buried the two bodies.

The burial place of St. Dymphna has long been associated with accounts of miraculous cures of mental illness. An infirmary was built there in the 13th century and to this day Gheel hosts a world-class sanatorium. A peculiarity of the treatment at Gheel from the earliest days is that patients are hosted with local residents, living and working alongside them. This is remarkable considering the attitudes of indifference and hostility to the insane of the time. Her feast day is on May 15. She is the patron saint of families, incest victims, epileptics, and runaways.

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