St. Dymphna, Patroness of Domestic Violence Victims
Why an obscure 7th-century Irish saint should be the patron saint of domestic violence victims
Although the 7th century Irish martyr, St. Dymphna, has remained in obscurity through the centuries, her status is beginning to change. It’s true that she still may not be as popular as some of the Catholic saints such as St. Patrick or St. Brigid, but that doesn't make her any less powerful of an intercessor—particularly in today's high-stress world.
St. Dymphna is the patroness of those with emotional disorders including anxiety, PTSD, and depression, as well as the patroness of those suffering from Alzheimer's Disease.
And, I now propose, St. Dymphna should be proclaimed the patron saint of domestic abuse 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have become the patron saints of domestic abuse victims, since they were both in abusive marriages, yet they seem to be outdated choices.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 virtuous, and should be done—but also by tolerating the behaviors, thereby enabling the sinner toward further sin and becoming buried in the chaotic life of the abuse cycle.
It was all they could do, considering their circumstances. Thankfully, domestic violence victims of today have more resources, including the Church. As the USCCB states, “We emphasize that no person is expected to stay in an abusive marriage. Violence and abuse, not divorce, break up a marriage.”
If St. Monica or St. Rita had decided to take a stand against the abuse perpetrated against them, to take control of their situations and tell their husbands to either change or they'd be forced to leave for the preservation of their physical and emotional selves, the results wouldn't have been pretty. Chances are they would have been shunned by their society, left in abject poverty for the remainder of their lives, with no social resources to provide support and healing.
St. Dymphna faced the same fate—after all, she lived in the 7th century. 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 woman, 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 reluctantly 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 lovely as his wife had been—except for one.
Dymphna, who looked just like her mother.
Not disturbed by 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 none of that mattered to her. She'd already consecrated her life to Christ, and refused to go back on her vow. Besides, the idea of marrying her father was ... Well, we can all imagine what it was.
With the help of her family priest, Fr. Gerebran, Dymphna fled across the wide waters, to Gheel, Belgium. Once there, she and Fr. Gerebran set up a humble dwelling located at the outskirts the chapel of St. Martin of Tours.
Fr. Gerebran attended to the spiritual needs of the newly-forming faithful Catholics of Gheel, while Dymphna discovered that her suffering and trauma could be used for the benefit of others. People came to her with their emotional distress and illnesses, and as she prayed for them, they found themselves resting in wholeness and peace, healed by the love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
However, Damon wouldn't give up so easily. He managed to track Dymphna to Belgium. Once there, his domestic jealousy and madness split and rendered his soul to such a degree that in a rage, he beheaded Fr. Gerebran as Dymphna helplessly looked on, in anguish because she was unable to protect her protector.
Yet Damon, in his crazed addled-mindedness, wasn't done with his task. When Dymphna still refused to give in to his incestuous demands, when she still maintained her dignity and refused the abuse he wanted to hurl at her, Damon decided that if he couldn't have her, no one else in the physical world could. He severed her head as he had done to Fr. Gerebran. Murder completed, he fled Gheel and returned to Ireland.
Many miracles have been attributed to the tomb 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 Dymphna that Pope Eugenius IV canonized her in 1431. To this day, Gheel 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, OH. If any of my readers 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.
Special announcement: Looking for stories of Catholics abused by spouse
If you're a Catholic who has been impacted by intimate partner violence (IPV) in any way – as a victim or survivor, or if you have a friend or family member who’s been abused – I want to hear your story! I’d also love to hear from clergy, lay Catholic ministers, and those who have used harm in their relationship but have come to full repentance and have gone through the work to achieve authentic change. In conjunction with Catholics For Family Peace, I’m compiling a book for Catholics to help increase awareness of and healing from domestic abuse. To hear one another’s stories – and to know we’re not alone – is one of the most powerful ways to heal. Pseudonyms will be used in this book to ensure discretion and your privacy.
If you’re willing to share your story, please contact Jenny duBay of Create Soul Space. Please share this announcement with any Catholic you think may be interested. The deadline for initial contact is October 15, 2022.