Her father was a pagan Irish King, but her mother was a devout Christian. That had to be an interesting household, especially in the 7th century. King Damon was devoted to his wife, so much so, when she died, he insisted that his new wife be as beautiful as his first. Dymphna was only 14 when her mother passed.
They searched far and wide for a fitting wife, but none could fill Dymphna’s mother’s shoes. During this time, Damon’s mental health began to deteriorate rapidly. He found his wife’s replacement in his own home, his own daughter. Oh the horror.
Dymphna, who had chosen to be a Christian like her mother, had taken a vow of chastity. When her own dad started making moves on her – she fled Ireland by ship and landed in Belgium.
Eventually King Damon’s people found her. Damon arrived and demanded she go back with him, but she refused. He was so angry, he took out his sword and sliced off her head. She was 15. Her body was buried in a cave in Gheel. It was eventually moved and a church was built on the location – the Church of St. Dymphna. Supposedly there have been many miracles that have taken place at the site.
She was martyred in 620.
Her feast day is May 15th.
She is the patron saint of the victims of incest, the nervous, emotionally disturbed, mentally ill and those who suffer from neurological disorders, as well as psychologists, psychiatrists and neurologists.
But the best part of her story is this:
Because of her plight, and the miracles that occurred in Gheel, thousands of mental health sufferers migrated to the town. The church, overcrowded with these poor people, began a “foster family” program. To this day, Gheel functions as role model for mental health services. This very successful, 700 year old system has been studied extensively as a model for community recovery.
There is an amazing movie clip on this here: http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/chronic-crisis-in-a-centuries-old-tradition-families-in-geel-belgium-take-in-those-with-mental-illness-226602311.html