This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May 15 -- Feast of Saints Dymphna and Caesarea

Incest or death? Death, please.
The stories of these two saints are sufficiently similar that they may be two local versions of the same event.  Then again, the wretched conflict at the center is common enough that they could both be independent occurrences of the misfortune.  Caesarea's story, the more fantastic of the two, is first.

Caesarea, a young maiden in southern Italy, became the object of her dad's lust.  She resolved to escape from home before some hideous sin was committed, but dad was very watchful.  She told him she was going to take a bath, and then tied two doves together and placed them in the tub of water.  While they were splashing around, she slipped out the door and down the road. 
You eat what you like and I'll eat what I like!

Eventually, the old man figured it out and went tearing after her.  He spotted her down by the shore. in a treacherously rocky spot.  He was not far from her when a sudden sea fog rolled in.  It was, to quote Yukon Cornelius, as thick as peanut butter.  He slipped, splashed, and subsequently succumbed.  Caesarea, guided by a bright light, entered an aperture that had just opened in the cliff wall.  When she was safely inside, it closed behind her.  She passed through the tunnel into a cave which served as her hermitage for the rest of her life.  There's a cave, apparently hers, somewhere around Otranto that pilgrims used to visit. 

St. Dymphna, as depicted by Jennie Wojtowicz
Dymphna was Irish maiden, the daughter of King Damon of Oriel.  When Dymphna was fourteen years old, her mom died and dad took it hard.  He searched the country for another wife, but he was looking for a facsimile, a replacement.  Not a really healthy foundation for a lifelong partnership.  When the search failed, he realized (now in the throes of desperate madness) that the closest woman to his beloved wife was his beloved daughter.  Of course! 

Dymphna caught wind of this and told her priest, Father Gerebenus.  They set sail at once, eventually landing in Belgium.  They built a small chapel at Gheel and lived like peaceful hermits until Damon showed up one day and beheaded them.   Their bodies were entombed at Gheel, which became a popular pilgrimage, famous for miraculous healing, especially of the mentally ill. 

Van Gheel & Partners recently renovated the hospital
Six centuries later (in the thirteenth century), Geel became an innovator in the care of the mentally ill.  A hospital to serve was built, in association with St. Dymphna's Church.  Unlike all other "treatment facilities" in Europe, this housed patients at night but released them to work with families during the day.  The work was therapeutic and the relative freedom was salutary.  Geel, Belgium became a model for alternative treatment of mental illness.  In 1938, there were 3,736 patients there.  As the twentieth century progressed and de-institutionalization became common, demand for care at Geel diminished a little, but there are still some 500 patients receiving care there. 

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