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Geel, Belgium: Church of Saint Dimpna (Dimphna)

About Saint Dimpna:

Born of nobility, Dympna (you will find it spelled two ways Dymphna and Dimpna) was raised by a Christian mother and pagan father in Ireland in the 7th century.  When her mother died, her father lapsed into what today would be considered a mental illness.  He sought to find someone as beautiful as his wife as a replacement, but to no avail.  He then became obsessed with his own daughter, Dymphna, to the extent that he wanted to marry her.

Horrified at this prospect, she took her concerns to her spiritual director, Father Gerebran, who advised her to immediately flee from her native country.  She did so immediately, accompanied by Father Gerebran, the court jester and his wife. They fled to Belgium and after stopping a short while near the present city of Antwerp, they continue on to the little village of Gheel. Here they were welcomed and Dymphna decided to build a refuge for the poor and mentally ill.  She advanced a revolutionary concept to house those suffering from mental illness: up until then “insane asylums” were filthy places with no treatment. People were locked up, often chained, with little effort to improve their condition.  Her influence led to a more humane treatment of those with mental illness, including the un-heard of practice of housing such people in private homes in the city of Geel.

Hers was not to be a happy ending; however, since her demented father sent his agents to pursue his daughter and her companions. When their hiding place was discovered, her father travelled to Geel, ordering his soldiers to kill Gerebernus and  force Dymphna to return with him to Ireland, but she resisted. Furious, Damon drew his sword and struck off his daughter’s head. After Dymphna and Gerebernus were killed, the residents of Geel buried them in a nearby cave.

About The Church of Saint Dimpna in Geel:

The Church of St Dimphna ( we switched spelling…this is the way they spell it in Belgium…a little confusing, we know!) was built over many years over the spot where it was believed that Saint Dymphna and her confessor, Gerebernus, were murdered.  The remains of Dymphna were put into a silver reliquary and placed here in the church.  During the late 15th century the original St. Dimphna Church in Geel burned down. A second “Church of St. Dimphna” was then built on the same site and consecrated in 1532.

Although Saint Dimphna may be the main attraction here, there are several five Flemish paintings considered masterpieces including The St Dymphna Retable and the Passion Retable.  The choir of the church contatins late Gothic altarpieces depicting scenes from the life of Saint Dymphna. In the front of the retable is the Renaissance tomb of Jan Van Merode and his wife (1544 AD).

We celebrate the Feast of Saint Dymphna on May 15.

In the U.S. you will find a National Shrine of Saint Dympna in Massillon, Ohio

Finding the Church of Saint Dimpna in Geel, Belgium:

Address:  Sint-Dimpnaplein 15, 2440 Geel

email: info@sintdimpna.be

Click here for the official website of the Church of Saint Dimphna in Geel, Belgium

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