Many miracles have taken place at her shrine, built on the spot where she was buried in Gheel, Belgium, where her blood was shed. Cures for madness and epilepsy were attributed to Dymphna’s intercession and in the thirteenth century the bishop of Cambrai commissioned a “Life of Dymphna” which drew on oral tradition. Local people also discovered two marble tombs which they believed angels had brought in honor of the saints.
Today she is Belgium’s patron saint of the insane, and for centuries Gheel has been noted for the care and treatment of the mentally ill.
Her life story was first recorded in the 1200s based on an oral tradition reported as happening in the 600s. It may be just an elaboration of a common legend.
St. Dymphna was born in the 7th century, when Ireland was almost universally Catholic. Her father, Damon, a chieftain of great wealth and power, was a pagan. Her mother was a very beautiful and devout Christian.
Dymphna was fourteen when her mother died. After his wife’s death, Damon is said to have been afflicted with a mental illness, brought on by his grief and because Dymphna resembled her mother, he conceived a passion for his daughter. He sent messengers throughout his own and other lands to find some woman of noble birth, resembling his wife, who would be willing to marry him. When none could be found his evil advisers told him to marry his own daughter. Dymphna fled from the castle together with Saint Gerebemus, her chaplain, and two other friends. They settled at Gheel, near the Belgian city of Antwerp, where Dymphna devoted herself to helping the poor and the sick.
Damon found them in Belgium, tracing them through coins spent on their journey. When Dymphna continued to reject the unnatural marriage, her father gave orders that Gerebemus' head be cut off. He tried to persuade his daughter to return to Ireland with him. When she refused, he drew his sword and struck off her head. She was then only fifteen years of age.
The site where she died is known for its miraculous healings of the insane and possessed. There is now a well-known institution on the site, and her relics are reported to cure insanity and epilepsy.