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medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Dympna (also Dimpna and Dymphna; d. 7th cent., supposedly) is the name given, on the basis of a reported inscription, to the human whose wonder-working bones were found in the earlier thirteenth-century in one of a pair of ancient sarcophagi at Geel in today's Belgian province of Antwerp.  Soon after her discovery she received a legendary Vita (BHL 2352) by one Peter, a canon of the church of St. Aubert in Cambrai.  This follows local tradition in making her the beautiful and secretly Christian daughter of a heathen king in Ireland who fell in lust with her because of her resemblance to her deceased mother.  Spurning all opportunities to engage in incest, Dympna fled with her aged confessor St. Gerebernus to Geel in today's Belgian province of Antwerp.  There they settled as recluses in a wood and there she was victorious in a struggle with the devil.  Her maddened father, whose spies had discovered her hiding place, arrived and appealed to her to return with him, accusing her of shifting her filial affection to Gerebernus and promising her that he would make her in effect a human idol.  Encouraged by Gerebernus, Dympna refused.  In his rage the king ordered both of them to be killed.  Though his servitors obliged by dispatching Gerebernus, they balked at harming Dympna.  Whereupon the king did the deed himself, beheading his own daughter.  Thus far Peter of Cambrai.

In the thirteenth century Dympna's relics at Geel were credited with miraculous cures, also recorded by canon Peter (BHL 2353, 2353b).  In the following century she had a church at Geel.  This was destroyed by fire in the later fifteenth century but was soon replaced by the larger structure shown here (consecrated in 1532 but not completed until ca. 1580; tower never finished):
http://tinyurl.com/zc9gtd2
http://tinyurl.com/gvvdtay
http://tinyurl.com/j7ayag4
A set of views:
http://mapio.net/o/2113267/
Elaborated and otherwise variant versions of Dympna's legend occur from the late fifteenth century onward, which is also when her iconography as we have it begins.   

Dympna is a patron saint of the mentally ill.  Today is her day of commemoration in the Roman Martyrology.


Some period-pertinent images of St. Dympna:

a) as depicted (fourth row from the top, fourth image from the right; standing over an enchained devil; double-click on the image to bring it up) in a late fifteenth-century book of hours from the southern Netherlands (ca. 1490; Poitiers, Médiathèque François Mitterrand, ms. 51, fol. 26r):
http://www.bm-poitiers.fr/EXPLOITATION/infodoc/digitalCollections/viewerpopup.aspx?seid=MS51_332_LIVRE_DHEURES_1&search=

b) as depicted (reading a book whilst standing over an enchained devil) in a late fifteenth-century book of hours and prayer book from the southern Netherlands (Cambrai?; ca. 1490-1500; Den Haag, KB, ms. 134 C 47, fol. 92r):
http://manuscripts.kb.nl/zoom/BYVANCKB%3Amimi_134c47%3A092r

c) as depicted (lower of the two images on this page; holding a sword and, seemingly, standing on a devil) in a late fifteenth- or early sixteenth-century book of hours from the southern Netherlands (ca. 1500; New York, The Morgan Library and Museum, Morgan MS. M.156, fol. 158r):
http://ica.themorgan.org/manuscript/page/43/77076

d) as depicted (standing over an enchained devil) in a late fifteenth-century book of hours and prayer book from the southern Netherlands (ca. 1500-1525; Den Haag, Museum Meermanno, ms. 10 F 14, fol. 125r)
http://manuscripts.kb.nl/zoom/BYVANCKB%3Amimi_mmw_10f14%3A125r_min

e) as portrayed in relief in carved panels of her early sixteenth-century mostly polychromed and gilt wooden altarpiece (ca. 1515; attributed by some to Jan van Wavere) in the Sint-Dimpnakerk in Geel:
1) her baptism (the two figures at left are servants who appear in a later development of her legend):
http://balat.kikirpa.be/image/thumbnail/KN3672.jpg
2) her flight from Ireland with a young(!) Gerebernus and the two servants:
http://balat.kikirpa.be/image/thumbnail/KN3675.jpg
3) her martyrdom and that of Gerebernus:
http://balat.kikirpa.be/image/thumbnail/KN3677.jpg
Many more views are here:
http://balat.kikirpa.be/object/72650

f) as depicted (martyrdom) in a panel painting in her early sixteenth-century mostly polychromed and gilt wooden altarpiece (ca. 1515; attributed by some to Jan van Wavere) in the Sint-Dimpnakerk in Geel:
Grayscale view:
http://balat.kikirpa.be/photo.php?path=B196667&objnr=72650&lang=en-GB
In color:
http://www.preguntasantoral.es/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Martirio-Geel-300x481.jpg

Best,
John Dillon
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