Saint Dymphna – A Role Model for our Youth

Author: Martina Caffrey
Issue: 25 – May 2008

Saint Dymphna – A Role Model for our Youth
Ireland was once known as the Land of Saints and Scholars.

Our Catholic faith was strong and kept alive through all difficulties over the centuries through the faith of the people. It is a source of national pride for us as Irish people to know that our country was seen as such a devoted and spiritual place for so long. Ireland spread the Good News to so many different countries bringing our Catholic faith with us wherever we went and succeeding in bringing countless numbers to the True Faith. It is true that in recent years this devotion has faded. The Ireland we live in today is but a shadow of what it once was. What a fitting time then for us to turn to those saints, those heroic Catholic martyrs and teachers who once spread the True Faith to the world and ask for their intercession and help in bringing the Catholic religion back into Ireland. We all know the more famous Irish saints such as Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid. They are our primary patron saints and we should turn to them in prayer for our country more often. However there are hundreds of other saints who are not so well known and who we should consider in our prayers. I have to admit that when I tried to think of the names of some of the other Irish saints, I struggled. We need all the help we can get in this battle to keep the Catholic faith alive in Ireland, so some knowledge and some thought towards our lesser known Irish saints might inspire and remind us just how many saints we Irish have in Heaven who are all eager to help us if we just ask them.

Saint Dymphna is one of those lesser known Irish saints. Her feast day of May 15th makes it fitting to mention her now. There are many prayers and devotions to this virgin martyr and many people will probably know or recognise her name. Saint Dymphna is the patron saint of people afflicted with nervous or mental disturbances. This makes her a fitting saint to pray to in these times as she may be able to help those in our country who are suffering the emotional or mental problems that are spreading more widely in our society. We have seen the levels of alcohol, drugs, suicide and mental health problems rise in recent times here in Ireland. By interceding with Saint Dymphna for those troubled with these problems we may be able to bring some healing to our youth and to those in need of our help. Saint Dymphna is also an example to the youth on the virtue of purity and how important it is to try and keep this virtue no matter how difficult the circumstance. She was born in the seventh century. Her father was a pagan chieftain and her mother was a very beautiful and devout Christian. Dymphna mirrored her mothers beauty and all throughout the land commented on how beautiful she was. When she was only fourteen, her mother died and her father was so heart-broken that he became inconsolable. This grief led to him suffering a mental collapse. His advisers suggested that he should find himself a second wife. The king agreed to this but only on the condition that his second wife look exactly the same as his first wife. Messengers were sent all over Ireland to try and find a noble woman who looked like the former queen. These attempts were fruitless as none could be found. It was then that his advisers had the idea that he should marry his own daughter as it was widely known that she was a living likeness of her mother. At first the king resisted but then his mental turmoil and his need for a wife drove him to agree to this scheme. He brought the subject up with Dymphna who was appalled and disgusted with the very idea. She refused and chastised him for even suggesting such an idea. She told him that she was a Christian and that she would not give in to his pagan beliefs. The king tried everything from flattery to pleading to threats to try and make her change her mind but she was firm in her faith and would not be tempted.

Saint Dymphna turned to her priest for advice and he told her that it would be best to flee from the castle. This she did along with her priest, Fr. Gerebern, and two friends. They found loyal sailors who rowed them across the sea to Antwerp in modern Belgium. The small group then settled in Gheel which was a little village near a shrine dedicated to Saint Martin de Tours. Over the next three months, Dymphna soon endeared herself to the local people through her kindness and acts of mercy. She was seen by them as an angel of mercy. Soon however spies from her fathers kingdom arrived in Gheel and as they used the same coins which Dymphna used in the local inn, the inn keeper innocently revealed to them where Dymphna lived. The king was informed and he immediately set out for Gheel. Again he pleaded and tried to coax Dymphna into agreeing to a marriage with him with the promises of riches and power and then turned to threats but it was still to no avail. She told him that she would rather die than to break the vow of virginity which she had made with her confessors guidance. In his mental affliction, an idea formed in his head that if the priest was killed, Dymphna would no longer have him there as a moral support. The king gave orders for Fr. Gerebern to be beheaded. This plan did not work as he had intended however and Dymphna remained steadfast in her faith telling her father that Nothing will induce me to offend Jesus Christ. The king had to admit defeat but he had promised vengeance if she refused him and so he carried this out. He ordered his men to kill her but they refused. They loved their princess for her gentleness of mind and heart and could not bring themselves to harm her. The king was furious and jumping up he took hold of his sword and beheaded his daughter. Saint Dymphna along with her confessor Fr. Gerebern were martyred in the year 620 when Dymphna had just turned fifteen. They were buried side by side in Gheel and over the centuries their graves have become a shrine and a place of pilgrimage for those who wish to seek Saint Dymphnas intercession for a loved one who is mentally afflicted.

Saint Dymphnas steadfastness in the face of temptation and danger should inspire us in our lives. We are often told to turn to the example of the saints for guidance in our daily lives and Saint Dymphnas story is one of those which should be used to inspire young people in their attempts to live a good Catholic life. Young people have so many distractions and temptations all clamouring for their attention and it is easy to lose their way. If we take some of our saints and use them as role models for our young people, we can give them the inspiration they need in times of trial. Saint Dymphna did not give up her beliefs and did not forsake her vow of virginity even in the face of death. How many more role models could we find if we took some time to read the life stories of our other Irish saints?


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