Penpalling & Letters

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The story of Saint Dimpna

As I announced a few days ago, I thought that it would be nice to start a section in the Blog where we could talk about an interesting topic related to our homelands. This idea is having a really good acceptance so far and today I have the pleasure to open it!

Our first speaker is Tinne from Geel (Belgium), who will tell us about “Saint Dimpna”, the patron saint of her homecity as well as the patron saint of psychiatric patients.

Tinne started writing letters when she was about nine or ten years-old and loved it back then. About eight years later a friend told her about IPF-International Pen Friends and this is how she started to write letters across the countries. In March this year, an online friend told her about "Postcrossing" and she decided to sign up a month later. Tinne also found some new penfriends on the Postcrossing Forum recently.

Dimpna was the daughter of a pagan Irish King called Damon and a Christian mother of great beauty in the VII century. Her mother secretly got her baptised by Gerebernus. When she is still very young her mother passes away. Her father is desperately looking for a new wife, who has to be as beautiful as his first spouse, but no one is pretty enough to take that place. But then one of his men points out that his daughter, Dimpna, looks exactly like her mother, so why not marry her? Dimpna refuses to marry her father and has to flee her home. With her confessor Gerebernus she travels to the European continent. They end up in Flanders and settle in the woods near the chapel of the Holy Martinus in Geel, where they take care of the poor and needy. Her father does everything to find them and after a few years he can track them down. He once more tries to force Dimpna to marry him, but her answer is unchanged. Her father is furious, orders his men to kill Gerebernus and decapitates his own daughter. Dimpna’s relics remain in Geel till today.

Tinne, are there any temple in the city dedicated to St. Dimpna where the relics can be found? Are there some festival or celebrations in St. Dimpna's honour? At which time of the year? How do people celebrate those times? Are there special traditions or customs?

There is a church for St. Dimpna, where her relics are kept and every five years, each May (her feast is on May 15th), there is the St. Dimpna “ommegang” (Dutch term which means “walk around the church”). It used to be a religious procession, during which the relics of St. Dimpna were carried around the town by the people. Now it is a big event with music, dance, plays... and lots of attention to the psychiatric care for which Geel is known. In Geel there is foster care for patients from the psychiatric clinic. The people are taken in by a foster family and they are treated as real family members, with their own chores.

Tinne, thanks a lot for telling us this interesting story and get to know your city, Geel! You are welcome whenever you wish to participate again!


  1. Works fine in Chrome now :)

  2. Thanks for that information. Gheel features in the new book I'm reading, "Unfashioned Creatures" by Lesley McDowel.