May 15: St Isidore Labrador (1070-1130) & St Dymphna (+620)

isidoreBorn in Spain in 1070, Isidore spent his life as a farm worker.  His wife Maria was also a saint.  Isidore became a legend because of his devotion and miraculous events. He died in 1130.  Canonised in 1622, Isidore Labrador (the  Farmer) is the patron of the US National Catholic Rural Life Conference. – Vatican II Weekday Missal 1975, p 1669.

 

dymphnaThe story of Dymphna has been preserved in a thirteenth century life written by a canon of the Church of St Aubert at Cambrai and commissioned by the Bishop of Cambrai, Guy I (1238-1247). The author expressly states that his work is based upon oral tradition and a persuasive history of inexplicable and miraculous healings. On the surface, the life of Dymphna appears to be a variation on a common motif, i.e., the popular legend of a father (in this case, a king) who decides to marry his own daughter; however, centuries of miraculous healings prove that the story is certainly not fictitious. In point of fact, more is known about  Dymphna after her martyrdom than is known about her earthly life.

According to tradition,  Dymphna was the daughter of a pagan (possibly Irish) king named Damon and an unnamed Christian princess of stunning beauty. Although her mother died probably when she was approaching adolescence, she made certain to have her daughter secretly baptized a Christian and left her in the competent hands of her priest-confessor, St. Gerebern. Damon was inconsolable after the death of his beautiful wife and became very despondent. His counselors advised that he seek a second wife of noble rank; however, he was not able to find anyone as beautiful as his beloved spouse. As St. Dymphna matured, she so resembled her beautiful mother that the unnatural passions of her father were stirred and he decided that he would marry his own daughter.

Horrified at what her father proposed, Dymphna, together with St. Gerebern and a few attendants, fled to the continent, boarding a ship which brought them to the city of Antwerp. One tradition states that they settled in the town of Gheel near an oratory dedicated to St. Martin of Tours where they lived as hermits. Another tradition elaborates the “hermit” theory and claims that once settled in Gheel, Dymphna built a hospice for the poor and sick of the region. Since she was a wealthy young maiden, it is not improbable to suppose that she could have used her wealth to secure her new life in the village and its environs. God may have bestowed the gift of healing upon her since by her very courageous stance against her father, it is clear she was not a lukewarm Christian, but took her faith to heart. Her financial resources would have enabled her to easily obtain poultices and powders for healing, and this would have added to her reputation as a healer. Ironically, it is through the use of her wealth that her father would eventually ascertain her whereabouts.

After learning of their flight, Damon and his guards pursued  Dymphna and her companions to the continent. Scouts who had been sent out ahead found a lead to their whereabouts when an innkeeper refused to accept the king’s money, claiming that it was too difficult to exchange. Damon thought it very coincidental that a village innkeeper would know about foreign currency and deduced that such knowledge meant that these coins had recently passed through the innkeeper’s hands. The king astutely narrowed his search to the area and eventually found  Dymphna and her priest-confessor near the chapel of St Martin.

Again, Damon tried to force his daughter into marriage. When Gerebern rebuked him for his unholy behaviour, the king, careful not to kill the elderly priest with his own hands, had his guards behead him. Hoping that his daughter would come to her senses, he again ordered her to return to his kingdom and prepare for their wedding, but she adamantly refused. Furious, he pulled out his sword and beheaded her on the spot. Thus, Dymphna received the crown of martyrdom in defense of her chastity some time between 620 and 640 at the age of fifteen or sixteen.

The bodies of the two saints remained at the site of their martyrdom for quite some time until the inhabitants of Gheel placed the corpses in sarcophagi and entombed them in a cave. From the spot where they were martyred, healings began to occur, especially healings involving mental illness, epilepsy and demonic possession. The fame of Gheel began to spread. So astounding were the rumors of the miracles that in the thirteenth century, the saints’ relics were unearthed. Fragments of two ancient sarcophagi purported to have held the bodies of the saints were found, as well as a quadrangular red tile bearing the inscription: “Here lies the holy virgin and martyr, Dymphna.” The remains of Dymphna were placed in a small church dedicated to her at Gheel which was destroyed by fire in 1489. In 1532, another church was erected on the site, much more magnificent than the previous one, which still stands today. The relics of Dymphna are kept within this church in an ornate silver reliquary. Her veneration rapidly spread all over Europe, and she became the patroness of the mentally ill, of epileptics and of abused children. – https://www.saintsmaryandmarthaorthodoxmonastery.org/newsletter_Jan2006.html

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