Sunday, January 31, 2010

Saint Dymphna

I found this folk plaque in the Albuquerque airport on my way home the other day. I always understood that Valentine was the patron saint of epilepsy and had never heard of Dymphna, but she actually looks a bit like Sophie, and I was thrilled to spend way too much money for a cheap, hand-painted piece of wood.

Here is St. Dymphna's story, as depicted on the back of the plaque. It's interesting to see how epilepsy and mental health are linked together. This is an old fallacy, perhaps perpetuated by me buying it and hanging it on a wall.

I do love a talisman, though.

Santa Dymphna - invoked aginst mental illness and epilepsy - patroness of mental health workers and asylums

Dymphna fled Ireland with Father Gerebran, an old and holy priest and her father's court jester and his wife in the sixth century. Her father, in his grief at the death of his wife, demanded that Dymphna fulfill her mother's role as his wife. Her father eventually found her in a hut in Geel, Belgium where he demanded that she meet his perverted demands. She refused, whereupon her father slew her with his sword. At her gravesight miraculous cures of the mentally ill and epileptics have taken place. One of the world's largest and most progressive hospitals for the mentally ill is built on the site of her martydom.


  1. WOW. That's an amazing story, on several levels. I can see why you liked the plaque. Having a patron saint seems like a good thing.

    That trip sounds as if it was a blessing. I'm so glad that you got to go.

  2. Some things have their own magic and some carry the magic of our hopes. I'm with you, I'll take ANY sainted symbol.

  3. Oooo. I love a good saint story!

  4. I remember her from our years learning about Catholic martyrs and saints. I did not remember her however until your post. Think, she was revered if I remember correctly from the 14th century on take or leave a few centuries. There must be something to it given the time people keep on looking to her for help. I too believe in talismans even if of a different kind. Anything material to tie dreams on to is a good thing. Hope in the flesh. I go for that.

  5. yes, she's beautiful just like your sophie.

    so glad she came home with you.

  6. Love the plaque and the story behind it and the story behind the story!

  7. I just read what you wrote about your husband and it brought tears to my eyes. What a truly special loving, wise, father, and partner for you. Just give her a happy life.

  8. I didn't know Valentine was the patron saint of epilepsy!

    The story of Dymphna is very interesting - patroness of mental health workers, wow I also didn't know something like that existed. I like the plaque.

  9. That's quite a coincidence, and I can see how this plaque spoke to you. As my Canadian cousin likes to say, "It was a meant thing." I have a similar plaque of Dymphna from a local art fair. I am intrigued by saints and have made several art pieces around their stories. Borrowing from Kathleen, I do think the saints carry the magic of our hopes, prayers, and wishes.

  10. ugh, I wrote a longish comment and it disappeared.

    I agreed that the painted wood was a peaceful and positive symbol. And she looks elegant in the face of all of that turmoil.

    Which made me think of you. I didn't comment on the post about the health insurance insanity, because I never want to enter a debate when I'm not armed with enough facts. Or when I'm just in screaming like a banshee mode .
    I'd like to think my naive assumption that people are all basically good, and compassionate is true , but of course most of the world is run by the bottom line.
    I volunteered for a very short while in my children's school library, shocked and dismayed by the politics, misguided funding, apathy , and drama.
    Well, I suppose I knew going in , hoping to sneak in a difference here and there. But it was enough to make me go insane. I actually enrolled in college to begin online courses and get a degree and make a difference dammit. But I wasn't really invested enough at this point in my life to undertake such a time consuming process. But it certainly seemed to add to my already existing opinion that so much is wrong with institutions like this. So much is still so mind boggling complicated and just plain wrong.

    okay , I said a little bit.
    mostly to say that you are a beautiful hope in the midst of mind numbing turmoil.

  11. Great story; isn't reality surreal? Anyway, we probably all need a few patron saints.

  12. My GOD - that poor woman! What a horrible story! Life was so hard back then... i guess its hard for some now too... espec. in certain countries...but it just seemed so callous and unfair back in those days across the world.

    Anyway, i didnt know anything about her, OR st. valentine. VERY interesting (espec. for me as a psychologist).

  13. That's a very interesting story. I love that you have a piece of craft in your home to remember it.

  14. Fascinating. Glad you took her home. I feel like she's safe now too.
    Sounds like she could've used a mom like you!

  15. I learned of Dymphna when I read Kathryn Harrison's "The Kiss". I bought one her saint cards shortly after. I can see why you were drawn to the plaque - it's beautiful.

  16. I Love it. I'm so glad you told us about her!!



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