There is a place in Belgium called Geel, with a special community practice toward the mentally ill.
So many pilgrims flock to the site for the healing of mental afflictions that extra housing had to be built, and when that overflowed, patients were taken into the homes of townspeople. This tradition that continues to this day. The “boarders,” as they are called, are treated as members of the town, and do simple labor in the community, as their afflictions allow. Some stay only a few months, others settle there permanently. The success of the Geel program is studied to this day.
The pilgrimage is made to Geel because of a young girl named Dymphna, patron Saint of runaways, psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, those suffering mental illness, and survivors of sexual, emotional, and/or physical abuse, especially that which has been perpetrated by family members.
Dymphna was born in Ireland in the 7th century to a devout Christian mother and a pagan father. When she was 14 years old, she consecrated her life to Christ and took a vow of chastity.
According to her legend, it was around this time that her mother died, and her father made plans to marry again- and to make Dymphna his new bride. When she learned of her father’s plans, she escaped her home with the help of a priest named Gerebran. They sailed for what is now Belgium. Hiding in Geel, Dymphna used her wealth to build a hospital for the destitute.
Within a year, her father tracked her down in Geel. He had Gerebran beheaded and insisted Dymphna return to Ireland and marry him. She refused. Her father murdered her as well, cutting off her head. She was 15.
Gerebran and Dymphna’s remains were gathered and laid to rest in a cave in Geel. (They’ve since been moved to church reliquaries.) In the 1300’s, both Dymphna and Gerebran were sainted, and in 1349, a church was built in Geel in honor of St. Dymphna.
Jay, Mike. “The Geel Question.” Aeon. 09 Jan. 2014. 10 Oct. 2016
Kirsch, Johann Peter. “St. Dymphna.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 09 October 2016
Citing this page:
Solomon, Alana. “Patroness of Those Who Suffer With Nervous and Mental Afflictions.” Ortolana Studio & Press. Ortolana Studio & Press, 15 May. 2017. Web.