Saint Dympna

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					                                 Saint Dympna – Patron Saint

William Stride                                                            December, 2007
wrstride@aol.com




       Bill in front of Cathedral of St. Dympna; Gheel Belgium




        It was the summer of 2001 when I was first introduced to Saint Dympna. I was at a peer
education training at Westborough state hospital; there were about forty of us gathered there.
A senior psychiatrist came and gave a talk on Saint Dympna. Upon hearing what he had to say I
felt something stir deep inside; a kind of awakening of my faith as this man must have felt when
he was younger. He told us that he was so moved by the story of Saint Dympna that he
arranged his yearlong post doctorial work in Gheel Belgium; the resting place of Saint Dympna.
When I heard this story I vowed that one day I would travel to Gheel Belgium and stand beside
the tomb of Saint Dympna.



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                                 Saint Dympna – Patron Saint

The Dympna story. . .

        Dympna was a Celtic princess who lived in 800 AD. Her father, the king, went insane
when his wife died and became obsessed with marrying his daughter Dympna. Dympna fled
the kingdom with a Priest and servant. They made their way to the continent and ended up in
Gheel Belgium.
        Her father tracked her to Gheel. As the legend goes a shop keeper gave the king a coin
from the king’s home province and he knew Dymphna was nearby. He found her and beheaded
her for refusing to marry him.
        The local people of Gheel built a tomb and placed the body of Dympna inside. The story
of Dympna and her tomb became a local tourist attraction in Gheel. Many people who traveled
through Gheel were directed to visit the tomb.
        It was soon realized that many mentally ill travelers who visited the tomb were
miraculously healed by simply gazing upon the bones of Dympna. Her tomb became a
pilgrimage for those with mental illness all over Europe and the rest of the world. Eventually
the people of Gheel began taking in persons with mental illness to live in their homes and work
their farms. Gheel became the first center for mental health care in the world starting some
1,000 years ago.




Ceramic statues depicting the beheading of Dympna; Dympna museum in Gheel




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                             Saint Dympna – Patron Saint




       My first experience with Saint Dympna came in the summer of 2004 when I was
planning a trip to Gheel; a trip that for various reasons got cancelled. It was very late at night
and I had just completed extensive research on Saint Dympna via the Internet. The things I
read about her were interesting and the whole story was fascinating. When I was done with
the research I went for a walk.
       I walked out to a dark place not far from my apartment and stopped there to look
around. Suddenly it was as if a swarm of many large black insects emanated from my
midsection and swarmed in a circle around me. After not more than a second or two they
dispersed and were gone. I was startled by this spectacle but I was not afraid of it either.
       I came to the conclusion that this miraculous experience must somehow be connected
to the plans for the trip and the Internet research I did that evening. It was just the kind of
experience that William James wrote about. In the days that followed I came to realize that I
had less anxiety and other negative feelings were less. Whatever happened that night, it had
left me in a state of greater well being and that was the proof, for those who want proof.
       The actual trip to Gheel came in November, 2007; A couple of weeks before the trip I
had a conversation about Saint Dympna with my doctor. I was describing the story of Saint
Dympna and how people with mental illness have been miraculously healed when approaching
her tomb. As I was describing the approaching of the tomb she said in a loud voice “Go for it!”
That marked the end of our meeting. Excited, I left and went outside.
       While standing on the sidewalk I began entertaining images of being healed as I
approached the tomb of Saint Dympna. As I stood there thinking about these things I began to
realize that I felt differently. I began taking stock of my internal sensations and did so often for
the rest of the day. By the end of the day I became convinced that I had been healed when the
words “Go for it!” were uttered by my doctor. In the following days it became apparent that I
was in a better state, a permanent and lasting state of greater well being. Before departing
there were more of these experiences.



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                             Saint Dympna – Patron Saint

       On the fifth of December, 2007 my sister Laura and I departed from Paris on the Euro
Rail and traveled to Brussels where we took two other trains to reach Gheel. On the day of our
travel a bomb was detonated at a law firm in Paris, killing two people. We did not find out
about this until the following day.
       When we were changing trains a spontaneous smile came over my face. I could not
remember when I had a smile like that before; it had been years.
       We arrived in Gheel in the pouring rain. A waitress in the café next to the train station
told us how we could reach the Cathedral of Saint Dympna. We dilly-dallied looking for a hotel
and then ended up in a restaurant to order lunch. My anxiety was climbing because I thought it
bad luck to do anything except go straight to the Cathedral. I told Laura that I wanted to go
there and she agreed; we cancelled lunch and went back out into the pelting rain and headed
for the Cathedral.
       Next I stood with my head resting against the steel doors at the entrance of Cathedral of
Saint Dympna. After so many years, so much anticipation, meditation and thought I had finally
reached this destination. It was not the reaching of the Cathedral that was great but all the
things that happened to me along the way.

       I now know that religious faith transcends space and time. The response to the request
comes in many different forms and is always a surprise. The excitement I felt upon first hearing
of Saint Dympna had accompanied me for years. As the trip grew near, these feelings
intensified. For anyone whom this story has the ring of truth follow that road for it is a road
that really does lead to a good and real place.


W.S. – December, 2007




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