8th Day: Novena to Saint Dymphna

Saint Dymphna and Companions by Goswin van der Weyden (1504–1505)
Saint Dymphna and Companions by Goswin van der Weyden (1504–1505)

This evening at 8:00 at Silverstream Priory: Sermon with Novena Prayer and Blessing with the Relic of Saint Dymphna.

Traveling with Saint Dymphna

A most unusual detail in the account of Saint Dymphna’s life and martyrdom is the conspicuous presence of her father’s court jester and his wife. While some have contested the historicity of the story of Saint Dymphna, the inclusion of these two characters makes the story all the more convincing. Life often introduces the comic into what is tragic.

Jesters and Fools

From ancient times in Ireland, kings and chieftains maintained fools, jesters, and jugglers in their courts. The early Irish Tales of the Kings are rich in the sayings and deeds of such characters. It was not uncommon for them to live in small companies, honing their drolleries.


Why did Damon’s jester and his wife choose to flee with Dymphna and Father Gerebernus? It is not likely that the jester would have been Christian. Jesters and fools were considered disreputable and of loose morals. Often they incurred the ire of bishops and abbots. It may be that the couple had known Dymphna since her infancy. They may have been very attached to her, almost as to their own daughter; they would have wanted to protect her from her father’s mad threats. It is likely that they also wanted to get away from Damon’s madness.

When one considers the whole story of Saint Dymphna, it is clear that the only people who would have been able to relate it from beginning to end would have been the jester and his wife. Both Gerebernus and Dymphna were martyred. The good people of Geel in Belgium would not have known the full story except as related to them by the jester and his wife. They were first–hand witnesses of what really happened and it is thanks to them that we know the details of Saint Dymphna’s adventure.

Touched by Grace

We are not told what happened to the jester and his wife. My personal belief is that they were touched by the grace of Christ and converted to the Gospel. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians.” How could they have witnessed the martyrdom the priest Gerebernus and their dear Dymphna without being moved to embrace the Holy Faith? I think that the jester and his wife were the first–fruits of Saint Dymphna’s martyrdom. This is conjecture on my part, but I think it highly probable.

The World Needs Saints

When it comes to winning souls to the Faith — or winning them back to the Faith — arguments, discourses, and pleading are of little use. Ultimately it is the witness of our lives and the grace of the Christ that brings souls into — or back to — the Church. The world needs saints. Ireland needs saints. Every family needs saints. The most convincing sign of the truth of the Church’s claims is the number of saints to whom she has given birth. Listen to what Pope Benedict XVI said in Cologne in 2005:

It is the great multitude of the saints – both known and unknown – in whose lives the Lord has opened up the Gospel before us and turned over the pages; he has done this throughout history and he still does so today. In their lives, as if in a great picture-book, the riches of the Gospel are revealed. They are the shining path which God himself has traced throughout history and is still tracing today.

The saints and the blesseds did not doggedly seek their own happiness, but simply wanted to give themselves, because the light of Christ had shone upon them.They show us the way to attain happiness, they show us how to be truly human. Through all the ups and downs of history, they were the true reformers who constantly rescued it from plunging into the valley of darkness; it was they who constantly shed upon it the light that was needed to make sense – even in the midst of suffering – of God’s words spoken at the end of the work of creation:  “It is very good”.

The Way of Love

There is nothing more winning than simple, humble holiness of life. Very few people can be talked into embracing the Truth. One embraces willingly only what one loves. The saints reveal the way of love, and it is love that leads to life, to abundant life here below, and to life eternal in heaven.

That love resides, not in our shewing any love for God, but in his shewing love for us first, when he sent out his Son to be an atonement for our sins. (1 John 4:7–10)

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