St. Dymphna

St. Dymphna is most well known as the patron saint of mental illness and anxiety, including mental and neurological disorders, depression, and sleep disorder. She's the inspiration behind St. Dymphna's Playbook, an excellent podcast about mental health and the Catholic faith which I recommend to everyone, but especially to those struggling with any mental health issues or with loved ones who do.

Lifetime: 600s
Region: Ireland; Belgium
Patronages: Mental illness; Runaways; Anxiety
Iconograpy: Sword; Lily; Crown
Feast Day: May 15

Dymphna was born in Ireland sometime in the 600s. Her father was a pagan king (another princess saint!), but her mother was Christian and raised Dymphna with a strong faith. So strong, in fact, that Dymphna took a vow dedicating herself and her body to Christ when she was just 14.

Sadly, her mother died very soon after Dymphna's vow, and her mother's death led her father to suffer from extreme mental health issues. Her father's advisors encouraged him to remarry, hoping that doing so would restore his mind, but he promised he would only marry someone as beautiful as his first wife, Dymphna's mother, whom he had adored deeply.

His advisors and the king himself looked all over for a suitable bride, but none could match the beauty of Dymphna's mother. All the while, the stress and grief caused Dymphna's father's mind to deteriorate even more, until he was so lost that he saw only Dymphna's mother whenever he looked at his own daughter. He declared that he would marry her.

Dymphna wanted to keep up her vows, so she and a few close friends gathered together some of her wealth and sailed across the sea to a small town in what is now Belgium. After laying low for a little while, Dymphna felt guilty for only living in hiding with her hoarded cash, so she started using it to fund a new hospital.

Sadly, Dymphna's generosity would lead directly to her martyrdom. Some of the coins she used to help establish the hospital ended up making it back to Ireland, where her father was able to recognize them as part of his hoard that Dymphna had taken. He traced them back to Belgium and found his daughter there. 

When her father arrived, Dymphna was still only 15. He again insisted that she marry him, but Dymphna still refused, even after he killed one of her friends in front of her. He was so angry that she wouldn't marry him that her father then cut off Dymphna's head too, killing her for her faith and for refusing to give in to evil.

Veneration of the young martyr spread throughout Ireland, and she became known as "Lily of the Eire" (Eire is another name for Ireland) due to her purity. She's also known as "demon slayer" because her intervention against mental illness was often seen as demons possessing people.

A church built in honor of St. Dymphna where she was killed became a popular spot for pilgrims seeking healing for all kinds of mental health issues, and through her intervention people have received healing there for over 500 years. At its peak, over 4000 pilgrims lived in the town alongside the town's residence as they prayed for healing.

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