Last Sunday, November 3rd, 2013, was All Saints Day and also Dia De Los Muertos, (Day of the Dead.) It is a time in many different faiths to recognize your lost loved ones, and some even create a shrine to those they cannot have forgotten. I have learned a lot this year about faith, grace, and love… and I truly have a new respect for this tradition that has not been acknowledged before in my family of “true Lutherans.”
This year I learned about a Saint I can really get behind. Saint Dymphna, the patron saint of nervous disorders and mental illness. It’s really a sad and twisted story. Dymphna was born in Ireland during the 7th century. Dymphna’s father Damon, a petty king of Oriel, and a pagan, but her mother was a devout Christian who grew up in wealth. When Dymphna was 14 years old, her mother died suddenly. Damon really his wife deeply, and in the aftermath of her death, his mental health deteriorated very quickly. He pretty much went mad. When he finally decided to remarry at the request of his closest advisors, Damon sought to find a woman who resembled his deceased wife, both in beauty and in piety. When no such woman could be found, Damon began to desire his daughter, because of the strong resemblance she had to her mother. When Dymphna learned of her father’s intentions, she fled his court along with her favorite priest Father Gerebernus and two trusted servants. Together they sailed towards the continent, eventually landing in Belgium, where they took refuge in the town of Gheel.
Once settled, Dymphna and her priest built a hospice for the poor and sick of the region. She helped the people without want of payment, and thanks only to God. Ironically, however, it was through the use of her wealth that her father would eventually find her whereabouts, as some of the coins used enabled her father to trace them to Belgium. Damon sent his agents to pursue his daughter and her companions. When their hiding place was discovered, Damon travelled to Gheel to recover his daughter. Damon ordered his soldiers to kill Father Gerebernus, who was then bound and his head was cut off by a sword. He tried to force Dymphna to return with him to Ireland, but she resisted. Furious, Damon drew his sword and struck off his daughter’s head. She was 15 years old when she died. After Dymphna and Gerebernus were martyred, the residents of Gheel buried them in a nearby cave. Years later, they decided to move the remains to a more suitable location. According to tradition, when workmen entered the cave to retrieve the two bodies they found that the bones of Dymphna and Gerebernus had been miraculously interred in two stone sarcophagi, one of which bore a red tile with the inscription “DYMPHNA” Credit: Wikipedia
It has also been said that once they erected the church the the burial grounds of these Martyrs, people from all over the world started showing up and praying for healing for mental health issues and nervous disorders… And it worked! Testimonies from the people who have been there say that they have been cured of OCD to Turrets to Bipolar disorders. I have never been one who believed in the magic of deities and what not, but it is nice to think that maybe these disorders are not as bad as we can make them out to be. Maybe it’s like the placebo affect, where we take in something that you have already convinced yourself is gonna work, and whether it’s real or not, it works because you believed. The science of faith.