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Saint Dympna.

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Saint Dimpna. Saint Damhnait

( d630)

The legend of St Dympna is common in the folklore of many European countries, Dympna is said to have been the daughter of a pagan Irish king, possibly from County Monaghan, her mother is reputed to have been a Christian princess who died when Dympna was young. As Dympna grew into a young woman, her uncanny resemblance to her dead mother aroused an incestuous passion in her father.

Dympna fled the country accompanied by her priest Saint Gerebernus, they traveled by ship to Antwerp and from thence to a oratory dedicated to St Martin, this was located near the present day town of Gheel some 25 miles from Antwerp, there they lived until discovered several months later.

Dympna's father had followed her to Antwerp and eventually traced her to Gheel, he tried to persuade her to return, when she refused he ordered that she and Gerebernus be killed, the kings men killed Gerebernus and those accompanying him, but hesitated to kill Dympna, it is said to have been the king himself who struck the fatal blow severing her head, the bodies were left where they lay, being buried later possibly by monks from the oratory.

In the early 13th century the body's of an unknown man and woman were discovered at Gheel, the name Dympna was found on a brick near the two marble coffins. The story generated great interest at the time, her grave came to be associated with cures for mental illness, eventually she began to be regarded as the patroness of the mentally ill.

The legacy left by Dympna can be seen today in Gheel in the form of a modern sanatorium for the mentally ill, said to be one of the best in the world. It was one of the first to treat mental illness by helping the patients to live normal lives, by arranging for them to live with farmers and other members of the community, assisting them in their day to day activities.

Dympna's body now rests in a silver reliquary in a church named in her honour, three other churched in Belgium have alters dedicated to the woman who was centuries ahead in her thinking on the treatment of mental illness.

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