Dymphna (also known as Dympna and Dimpna) was born in Ireland. Her father was a pagan king. Dymphna became a Christian and was secretly baptized.
Dymphna was only 14 when her extraordinarily beautiful mother died. Her father Damon scoured the world for a suitable and equally beautiful replacement. After the search failed, his advisors pointed out that his teenage daughter had inherited her mother's looks. Driven mad by grief and mental illness, Damon made awkward sexual advances towards Dymphna. Together with an elderly priest Gerebernus, she fled to the village of Gheel (province of Antwerp, Belgium), where there was a chapel of St. Martin, beside which they took up their abode.
However Damon's spies tracked them down. Confronting them at Gheel, Damon ordered his soldiers to slay Gerebernus and begged Dymphna to return with him to Ireland. When she refused, he decapitated her in a rage. The corpses were put in sarcophagi and entombed in a cave where they were found later. The body of St. Dymphna was buried in the church of Gheel, and the bones of St. Gerebernus were transferred to Kanten.
The earliest historical account of the veneration of St. Dymphna dates from the middle of the 13th century. Under Bishop Guy I of Cambrai (1238-47), Pierre, a canon of the church of Saint Aiibert at Cambrai, wrote a 'Vita" of the saint, from which we learn that she had been venerated for many years in a church at Gheel, which was devoted to her. The author expressly states that he has drawn his biography from oral tradition.
There are at Gheel fragments of two simple ancient sarcophagi in which tradition says the bodies of Dymphna and Gerebernus were found. There is also a quadrangular brick, said to have been found in one of the sarcophagi, bearing two lines of letters read as DYMPNA. The discovery of this sarcophagus with the corpse and the brick was perhaps the origin of the veneration.
The burial place of St. Dymphna has long been associated with accounts of miraculous cures of mental illness. An infirmary was built there in the 13th century and to this day Gheel hosts a world-class sanatorium.
St. Dymphna is the patron saint of those who suffer from mental illnesses and nervous system disorders, epileptics, mental health professionals, happy families, incest victims, and runaways.