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Why a 7th Century Irish Saint is the New Patron Saint of Domestic Abuse Survivors

Updated: Aug 19


(Statue of St. Dymphna at her national shrine in Massillon, OH)


Few people have heard of the 7th century Irish saint, St. Dymphna, although that's beginning to change. She may not be as popular as some of the Catholic "mega saints" like St. Maximilian Kolbe or St. Thérèse of Lisieux, but that doesn't make her any less powerful of an intercessor--especially in today's world.


St. Dymphna is the patron saint of those with emotional disorders including anxiety, PTSD, and depression, as well as the patron saint of those suffering from Alzheimer's Disease.


And, I now propose, she's the patron saint of domestic abuse victims and survivors.


If you do a quick online search for the patron saint of domestic violence victims, you'll likely come across two primary names -- St. Monica of Hippo (4th century) and St. Rita of Cascia (14th/15th centuries). I understand why these women have become the patron saints of domestic abuse victims, since they were both in abusive marriages, yet they seem to be outdated choices. Both women dealt with their abusive situations by praying for their spouses--which is great, and should be done--but also by tolerating the behaviours.


It was all they could do, given their circumstances. Yet the times, they are a'changin', and women today have more options.


If St. Monica or St. Rita had decided to no longer put up with abuse, to take control of their situations and tell their husbands to either change or they'd leave, the result wouldn't have been pretty. Likely they would have been deserted, left in abject poverty for the remainder of their lives, with no social resources to provide support and healing.


Living in the 7th century, St. Dymphna faced the same fate. Her father, Damon, was a minor king of Oriel in Ireland -- and an iron-fisted pagan. Her mother, on the other hand, was a tender-hearted, beautiful Christian, who raised her daughter in the love of Christ and His holy Church.


When Dymphna was 14 years old, her mother suddenly died, leaving her father completely bereft with grief. He became mentally unstable as his grief deepened, until finally his advisors told him he should remarry. He agreed -- on one condition. A woman as beautiful and as kind as his deceased wife must be found. His advisors searched all of Ireland, and even beyond, but could find no woman as beautiful as his wife had been -- except for one.


Dymphna, who looked just like her mother.


Undeterred at the fact that Dymphna was his daughter, Damon decided he must marry her. His mental instability was increasing by the day, and Dymphna was terrorized by his incestuous advances and abuse. She knew that if she fled the protection of her kingly father, she would lose all privilege and status, and be left in abject poverty.


But she didn't care. She'd already consecrated her life to Christ, and refused to go back on that vow. Besides, the idea of marrying her father was ... Well, we can all imagine what it was.


(The current cathedral dedicated to St. Dymphna in Gheel, Belgium, photo by Irene Archos)

With the help of her family priest, Fr. Gerebran, Dymphna fled across the sea, to Gheel, Belgium. Once there, she and Fr. Gerebran set up a modest dwelling outside the chapel of St. Martin of Tours. Fr. Gerebran attended to the spiritual needs of the faithful Catholics of Gheel, while Dymphna discovered that her suffering and trauma could be used for the good of others. People came to her with their emotional distress and illness, and as she prayed for them, they found themselves resting in peace, healed in the love of Christ.


However, Damon wouldn't give up so easily. He managed to track Dymphna to Belgium, and once there, his madness split and rendered his soul to such a degree that in a rage, he beheaded Fr. Gerebran as Dymphna helplessly looked on, unable to protect her protector.


Yet Damon, in his crazed addled-mindedness, wasn't finished. When Dymphna still refused to give in to his incestuous cravings, when she still maintained her dignity and refused the abuse he wanted to hurl at her, instead standing up for herself and her devotion to Christ, Damon decided that if he couldn't have her, no one else could. He severed her head as he had done to Fr. Gerebran. The deed done, he fled Gheel and returned to Ireland.


(First class relic of St. Dymphna located at her shrine in Ohio)


Many miracles have been attributed to the burial site of St. Dymphna, all centering on the healing of those with mental health issues, emotional disturbances, and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's Disease. There have been so many verified miracles and cures attributed to the intercession of St. Dymphna that Pope Eugenius IV canonized her in 1431. To this day, Gheel Belgium is known as a place of healing and refuge for those suffering from anxiety disorders and other emotional disturbances.


Since victims of domestic abuse have been through nearly constant trauma, they suffer from a wide range of emotional issues, most notably PTSD, severe anxiety, generalized fear, depression, and a sense of hopelessness. Because St. Dymphna suffered trauma and domestic abuse, and because she experienced severe anxiety yet overcame it by helping others -- even after her death, interceding on behalf of those who need her help the most -- her role as the patron saint of domestic abuse survivors seems obvious.


Prayer for the intercession of St. Dymphna:


I turn to you, dear virgin and martyr, confident of your power with God and of your willingness to take my cause into your hands.


As patroness of the nervous and emotionally distressed, I firmly hope that through your kind intercession He will restore my lost serenity. Please gain for me the grace that He may expel from my soul the evil spirt of depression, hatred, fear and any other negative forces that may dwell within. May He speak to my heart and reassure me: "My peace I give you. Let not your heart be troubled nor let it be afraid."


Pray for me, dear St. Dymphna, that my nervous and emotional turmoil may cease, and that I may again know serenity and personal peace. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.


 

I have a limited number of St. Dymphna medals that have been touched by the first-class relic of hers, and blessed by Fr. Edward Gretchko of the National Shrine of St. Dymphna in Massillon, Ohio. If any of my readers (located in the U.S.) are suffering from anxiety or have a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s, and would like a blessed medal, please send me a message with your address and I can mail one to you.


 


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