Celtic and Old English Saints          15 May

* St. Dympna of Gheel
* St. Gerebernus of Sonsbeck
* St. Colman of Oughaval
* St. Britwin of Beverley

St. Dympna (Dymphna, Dympne) of Gheel, Virgin & Martyr
Died c. 650. Dympna is said to have been the daughter of a pagan Irish
(from Monaghan?), British, or Amorican king and a Christian princess who
died when she was very young, but who had baptized her daughter. As
Dympna grew into a young woman, her uncanny resemblance to her dead
mother aroused an incestuous passion in her father.

On the advice of her confessor, Saint Gerebernus (f.d. today), Dympna
fled from home. Accompanied by Gerebernus and attended by the court
jester and his wife, she took a ship to Antwerp. She then travelled
through wild forest country until she reached a small oratory dedicated
to Saint Martin on the site of the present-day town of Gheel (25 miles
from Antwerp). The group settled there to live as hermits and during
the several months before they were found, Dympna gained a reputation
for holiness because of her devotion to the poor and suffering.

Dympna's father had pursued her to Antwerp, and he sent spies who found
them by tracing their use of foreign coins. The king tried to persuade
her to return, but when she refused, the king ordered that she and
Gerebernus be killed. The king's men killed the priest and their
companions but hesitated to kill Dympna. The king himself struck off
her head with his sword. The bodies were left on the ground. They were
buried by angelic or human hands on the site where they had perished.

The whole story gripped the imagination of the entire countryside
especially because, according to tradition, lunatics were cured at her
grave. Great interest in her cultus was renewed and spread when the
translation of the relics of Dympna was followed by the cures of a
number of epileptics, lunatics, and persons under evil influences who
had visited the shrine.

Under her patronage, the inhabitants of Gheel have been known for the
care they have given to those with mental illnesses. By the close of
the 13th century, an infirmary was built. Today the town possesses a
first-class sanatorium, one of the largest and most efficient colonies
for the mentally ill in the world. It was one of the first to initiate
a program through which patients live normal and useful lives in the
homes of farmers or local residents, whom they assist in their labour
and whose family life they share. The strength of Dympna's cultus is
evidenced by this compassionate work of the people of Gheel for the
mentally ill at a time when they were universally neglected or treated
with hostility.

The body of Dympna is preserved in a silver reliquary in the church
bearing her name. Only the head of Gerebernus rests there, the remains
have been removed to Sonsbeck in the diocese of Muenster. (Attwater,
Benedictines, D'Arcy, Delaney, Farmer, Kenney, Montague, O'Hanlon,

In art, Saint Dympna is a crowned maiden with a sword and the devil on a
chain. Many children in Belgium are called Dympna, but in Ireland she
is remembered under the form Damhnat, while in England Daphne is used.

Dympna is invoked against insanity, mental illness of all types, asylums
for the mentally ill, nurses of the mentally ill, sleepwalking,
epilepsy, and demoniac possession (Roeder). Her feast day is kept in
Ireland and Gheel.

St. Gerebernus (Gereborn, Gerebrand, Genebrard), Martyr
7th century. As an aged Irish priest Gerebernus accompanied Saint
Dympna (f.d. today), whom he had baptized in her infancy, to Belgium and
shared in her martyrdom at Gheel. He is the patron saint of the village
of Sonsbeck (Santbeck), Cleves, in the Rhineland, Germany, where his
relics are enshrined, except for his head, which is in Gheel. Curiously,
he was the subject of "holy robbers of Xanten" who specialised in
stealing holy relics, although they were unable to remove those of
Dympna. His intercession is sought against gout and fever
(Benedictines, D'Arcy, Husenbeth).

St. Colman (Columbanus) McO'Laoighse, Abbot
6th century. A disciple of Saint Columba (f.d. June 9) and Saint Fintan
of Clonenagh (f.d. February 17), Saint Colman founded and governed the
monastery of Oughaval, of which only a few stones remain (Benedictines).

Saint Colman was a disciple of St. Columba, Abbot of Iona and Sr. Fintan,
Abbot of Clonenangh. In the Martyrology of Tallagh he is included as Colman
Mac h Laighsi on 15 May. He was of the family (clan) of Laoighsigh
Ceannmoir, son of Conall Cearnach, a celebrated Ultonian hero who lived in
the first century. His father was Lugna and his grandfather was Eugene.
Their tribe-name was Mac Ua Loighse.

The first mention of St. Colman, a pious youth and native of the Portlaoise
area in the Province of Leinster, is in the Life of St. Fintan of Clonenagh.
He desired to dedicate his whole life to the service of Christ in prayer and
ascetic labour. To this end he made a pilgrimage to Iona to seek spiritual
counsel from the renowned abbot of that holy island, St. Columba. He
remained at Iona for several years as a novice learning the disciplines of
the monastic life.

Later Colman felt the call to return to Ireland and he asked St. Columba how
it would be possible to live there without being able to confess his sins to
his abbot. St. Colman said, “Go to that pious man whom I see standing among
the Angels and before the tribunal of Christ, on each Sunday night”. Colman
asked, “Who and what sort of man is he?” and the holy Abbot answered, “There
is a certain saintly and handsome man, in your part of the country, whose
complexion is florid, whose eyes are brightly sparkling, and whose white
locks of hair are thinly scattered on his head.” To this Colman replied, “I
know of no man answering this description, in my country, except Abbot
Fintan.” Then St. Columba confirmed, “He it is, my son, whom I see before
the tribunal of Christ, as I have already told you. Go to him, for he is a
true shepherd of Christ’s flock and he shall bring many souls with him to
the kingdom of Christ.”

Colman received the blessing of St. Columba and set out on the journey to
his native land. Comimg to St. Fintan, Colman told him all that the holy
Abbot of Iona had said. On hearing these things the elderly abbot blushed
deeply so it seemed as though his face was on fire. He cautioned Colman not
to report these things to anyone, at least, during his own lifetime.

Colman selected Oughaval, a town land within the present-day Parish of
Stradbally in county Laois, as the site of his monastic settlement. The
exact date of the founding of the monastery is unknown but it was shortly
before the repose of Saint Fintan in about the year 595. The place can still
be identified and the burial ground is still be use. However it is
impossible recognise the actual church or monastic building since the stone
was reused at the beginning of the 18th century to build a mausoleum. It was
a mediaeval church until 18th century. The Mick walls and Tower at West End
are very, very old.

Colman is very popular name in Ireland. The Martyrology of Donegal lists 96
saints of this name and the Book of Leinster records no less than 209. In
addition there seems to be some confusion in ancient texts between Colman
(Colmanus in Latin) and Columbanus. Not long before his own death, St.
Columba of Iona foresaw the death of a certain holy man named Columbanus, a
bishop in the Province of Leinster and some hagiographers have identied this
saint with St. Colman of Oughaval. However there seems to be no serious
historical foundation for this assumption, and indeed we have no evidence
that our patron was a bishop. As is well known, Celtic lands in general and
Ireland in particular, during this period had few large settlements that
could be described as cities or towns. Thus church administration was based
more on the local monastery than on a diocesan structure. The abbot of a
large monastery therefore had greater influence than most bishops whose
basic function was to ordain.

The fate of St. Colman’s monastic foundation is something of a mystery. It
had ceased to function long before the Dissolution of the Monasteries under
Henry VIII. The history of the monastery subsequent to the repose of St.
Colman is the subject of current research.
Saint Colman of Oughaval pray for us

The Russian Orthodox Church has recently erected a church at Oughaval
dedicated to this Saint.

Canon of Saint Colman of Oughaval

Icon of Saint Colman of Oughaval

St. Britwin (Brithwin, Brithun) of Beverley, Abbot
Died c. 733. When Saint John of Beverley (f.d. May 7) resigned his
bishopric at York, his good friend Abbot Saint Brithwin received him
into his monastery at Beverley (Benedictines).

Lives kindly supplied by:
For All the Saints:
These Lives are archived at:


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