One week from today, the Saint Dymphna Procession is held in Geel (15 May).
Once every five years, the small city in the Kempen countryside celebrates the Irish saint who was beheaded by her father for refusing to marry him. She became the patron saint of mental illness and led to Geel developing a unique system of care in the community.
The Dymphna legend has inspired countless paintings, including a beautiful altarpiece painted in 1505 by Goossen van der Weyden, grandson of the more famous Rogier.
The eight panels (now reduced to seven) were recently restored by the Phoebus Stichting, a private foundation, and are currently on display in the church in a fascinating exhibition titled Crazy about Dymphna (until 28 August 2022).
The exhibition tells the story of Dymphna using video, interactive screens and animated clips that compare the paintings to comic strips. It also has fascinating video interviews with local families, boarders and mental illness experts.
The message from Geel is that the Dymphna story is still relevant to modern life. Her story includes elements of incest, MeToo, women’s rights, and mental illness.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.