The Shrine of St. Dymphna is located at:
Rev. J. Seuntjens
Parish Priest St. Dymphna
B - 2440 GEEL
THE STORY OF ST. DYMPHNA
A document from about 1247 (in Latin) relates for the first time, the life of St. Dymphna, but five centuries after it had happened. According to this document, Dymphna was the daughter of an Irish king who lived at the end of the 7th century or at the beginning of the 8th. Her father was still a heathen, but her mother, the queen, took care that the priest Gerebernus baptised her daughter. St. Dymphna's mother educated her in the Christian faith.
After his wife's death the king was inconsolable and nothing or nobody could make him happy. His courtiers suggested that he marry a new wife who would be as beautiful as his deceased wife. The messengers who were sent out all came back without results because such a woman was unable to be found; but they advised the king to marry his own daughter Dymphna. So the king, caught by a devilish lust, asked his daughter to marry him. This proposal gave the deeply religious Dymphna a great shock and she firmly refused.
To avoid her father's wrath Dymphna fled with her confessor Gerebernus and with the court-fiddler and his wife. They crosed the sea and landed at Antwerp (Belgium). To reach safety they moved inland to the woods and finally found a suitable hiding-place at Zammel, a hamlet of Geel, where they settled down in a humble house. At Geel they found a chapel dedicated to Saint Martin.
But the king had already traced the trail of the fugitives to Antwerp from where he sent his messengers into the countryside to find Dymphna. So the king's scouts landed at Westerlo, near Zammel. When they payed their debts at the inn, the host remarked that a foreign virgin who lived a short distance away with an old priest and a man and his wife, had also payed with the same coins. Unconscious of his unintentional treachery, the host gave them further explanations regarding Dymphna's residence. (The tradition added that when the hostess also showed the direction with her stretched arm, this arm remained stretched out stiffly.)
When the scouts returned speedily to Antwerp and announced to the king that they had located Dymphna, the king went to Geel to meet again his daughter. But Dymphna obstinately still refused to agree to her father's impossible proposal. Mad with fury the king fled into a demented rage and beheaded his daughter. Gerebernus was also murdered and the inhabitants piously buried both martyrs. At the graves they prayed for the cure of mental illnesses.
When many years later the relics of the two martyrs were exhumed and found in two white stone coffins, a material completely unknown in the whole of the Campinian country, the inhabitants believed that the martyrs had been buried by angels. They invoked them as saints for the recovery of all sorts of diseases, but especially for the cure of insanity, because Dymphna was murdered by her father in a lunatic attack, which was the work of the devil.
From far and near pilgrims came to Geel to venerate Saint Dymphna pleading for recovery, during nine days and staying in the "sickroom", a civil building put up next to the church of Saint Dymphna. Because of the great concourse of "possessed" or "innocent" "pilgrims" it was necessary to lodge them in the houses of the citizens of Geel while awaiting their turn to be admitted into the "sickroom" for their novena. From this practice arose the world famous "family care of insanes" of Geel, which is unique in the whole world. It is a tangible proof of the hospitality of Geel. And so Geel gained the honorary title of the "City of Charity."