St. Dympna

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St. Dympna, Virgin and Martyr

“In Brabant, the memory of the holy virgin and martyr Dympna, the daughter of an Irish king, who was beheaded by order of her father for having confessed the Christian faith and preserving her virginity.” This notice is today in the Roman Martyrology. St. Dympna was a royal princess, her father was a pagan, but her mother a Christian; she was baptized without the knowledge of the father as soon as she had become old enough to understand the truth of the Christian faith. From that hour she renounced all worldiy pleasures, honors and riches, and aspired only after heavenly treasures. Soon after she also consecrated her virginity to God by vow in consideration of the priceless worth of virginal chastity. After her mother’s death her father desired to marry again as he, however, believed that there was not a more beautiful princess than Dympna, he conceived the unheard-of thought of marrying his own daughter. Dympna was horrified at such an incestuous demand, and reproving her father for his design, said that such godlessness had not been heard of since the world was created. Her father, however, persisted and pursued her with flatteries, caresses and promises and finally with menaces. 

Dympna told him fearlessly that she was a Christian and had vowed to remain a virgin, but that even if this were not the case, she would die rather than consent to his desire. She pictured to him, with unanswerable eloquence, the terrible scandal he thought of giving to his subjects, the indescribable infamy of the vice, the presence of God, the account he had to render before the throne of the Almighty, the horror of dying in sin, and finally a whole eternity in the unending torments of hell. But the father, blinded by his passion and deaf to all her remonstrances, was not frightened, but said to her, full of rage: “You shall be obedient to my wishes, I demand it of you, and it shall be as I say.” The chaste princess fearing that he might use violence, raised her eyes towards Heaven and calling on the Almighty more with sighs and tears than words, she said to her father: “If I must obey you, grant me a delay of forty days.” The wicked father was content, not imagining the intention of the chaste princess. Dympna immediately sought the advice of Geribert, a very pious priest, who had baptized her, and asked him what she should do in this terrible emergency. The priest said that the only means to save herself was by flight, and that he would safely conduct her to some other land. This answer quieted her. Providing herself with money, she changed her clothes, and leaving her father’s palace, accompanied by the priest and a faithful servant, went on board a boat, and under the guidance of the Almighty, arrived happily at Antwerp. Thence she went to Gheel, a village not far off, where she had two huts built, one for herself, the other for the priest, and lived more an angelic than a human life.

The father, on being informed of his daughter’s flight,stormed and raged like a maniac, and sent his servants to search everywhere for her. As, however, all their endeavors were fruitless, he went himself, with several servants, on board of a ship and directed by Providence, landed at Antwerp. He then again directed his servants to all the neighboring villages to inquire for his daughter. Two of them came to the inn from which Dympna sometimes procured her food. When they paid for their dinner which they had taken there, the inn-keeper, looking at the money they gave him, said: “I have often seen such money as this, but do not know its exact value.” The servants, surprised at these words, asked of whom he had received it, and inkeeper revealed to them what he knew. Supposing that the stranger was she whom they were seeking, and having learned where she lived, they hastened to the king, and made him acquainted with what they had heard.

The king, rejoicing at the news, went without delay to the indicated place, where he found his daughter. At first, Dympna became pale with fear when she saw her father, but raising her heart to God, she was filled with heroic firmness. The king reproaching her with her flight, repeated his former wicked desire, commanding the Geribert to advise Dympna to consent. “What,” exclaimed the pious priest; “you expect me to advise her to commit so horrible a crime! I had rather die a thousand deaths. I, however, advise, admonish, nay, command you, O King, in the name of the Most High, to abstain from your godless design that you may not draw upon yourself the vengeance of heaven.”

The King, incensed beyond endurance at these words, dragged the priest out of the room, and had him cut to pieces. He then again pressed his daughter, not only with flatteries and caresses, but also with the most frightful threats, to assent to his wishes. As she, however, more heroically than ever resisted him, and with her eyes raised to heaven, repeated that she much preferred death to such a life, he became enraged to such a degree, that he commanded his servant to behead her, not only because she was a Christian, but also for not obeying her father. Others say that the father himself murdered her, as his servants refused to commit the crime. Be this as it may, however, it is certain that she ended her life by the sword. The murderer, leaving the two bodies swimming in blood, departed; but the inhabitants of the neighboring villages respectfully buried them, and as God soon honored their graves with miracles, the clergy determined to exhume the holy remains.

When they began to remove the earth they came to two coffins of white marble, which seem to be made by human but by angelic hands. In one reposed the body of St. Geribert, which they brought first to the city of Xanthen, and later to Santbeck, in the Dutchy of Cleves. In the other where the remains of St. Dympna and a purple precious stone upon which the word Dympna was written in distinct letters. Her body remained at Gheel until, after some years, the Bishop of Cambray again disinterred it, and placing the relics of the Saint in a casket wrought of gold and silver and ornamented with precious stones, deposited it in a church built to the memory of St. Dympna. This holy virgin and martyr is represented as holding the Evil Spirit bound in chains, to show how great a power God gave her over evil spirits, as at her tomb many that were possessed were released.

Practical Considerations

The father of St. Dympna endeavored to tempt his daughter to the most horrible crime, and became her murderer when she refused to consent. Thus far will an impure, uncontrolled passion bring any one. No crime is so detestable or dreadful that an immoral person may not fall into it. “If any one allows himself to be carried away by such a passion,” says St. Chrysostom, “Satan will lead him into as many and as great vices as he pleases.” The mind becomes blinded, the will hardened; and this in such a maner, that he neither listens to exhortations nor remonstrances, and defies even hell with all its torments. He refuses to do penance because he immagines that he cannot change his vicious conduct. “Lust has perverted thy heart;” said Daniel (Chapter xiii.), to one of the two wicked elders who would have induced the chanste Susanna to stain her pure life. A soft heart becomes deluded, stubborn, and inpenitent. And what will be its end? “Whoever indulges himself in impure love and remains long to it,” says St. Rupert, “continues to sin as long as he lives, because the impure fire never says: it is enough. Lust is a vice which satisfied,” and as St. Peter say, ” a sin that ceaseth not” (II. Peter, chapter ii.). This is why men addicted to it are its slaves even in their old age, and cease not to sin until they cease to live. What else, however, can follow such an end except the beginning of endless torments? Hence, O Christian, let not unchaste love, so dangerous, so destructive, ever take possession of you, but if it has already carried you away, tear your heart forcibly away from it. As yet you are able to do it, if you earnestly desire. God will not withhold his aid, if you fervently pray to Him.

St. Dympna consented not to the horrible desire of her father: neither flattery, nor promises, nor menaces could change her, and she preferred rather to die than to offend the Almighty. Although God, for her own greater merit, as well as to make her an example to others, permitted her to be murdered, He on the other hand honors her chaste body with great miracles. The joys of which her soul now partakes in heaven, words cannot express, nor the mind comprehend.

It sometimes happens that a person is tempted to the vice of impurity by one to whom he owes respect and obedience whose favor and good-will is of importance to him, and who is able to injure him greatly if his wishes are not consented to. He is urged by flatteries, promises, and threats. How should he act? He should follow the example of St. Dympna. He must set aside all respect, and refuse obedience, as in such cases, no one is bound to obey. The favor of no one, whoever it may be, is of such consequence as the favor of the Almighty; and He can punish much more severely when you offend Him, than the men of the whole world combined. God promises you a greater reward, if you are obedient to Him, than any man can give you if you consent his wicked desires. The menaces of the Most High are much more to be feared than those of men. All that a man can threaten you with is temporal, and has regard to the body, but the menaces of God regard soul and body, and are eternal. Hence-God is to be loved, feared, and obeyed more than any man. “Let our only fear be, to fear anybody more than God,” says St. Gregory Nazianzen. “I do not regard the menace of men,” writes St. Augustine, “but rather turn my eyes upon Thy promises and menaces, O God! than upon the promises and menaces of men.”

Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.

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