Crazy about Dymphna

The Story of a Girl who Drove a Medieval City Mad

The life story of the Irish princess Dymphna reads like a tragic fairy tale. After her mother's death, the king asked his daughter, Dymphna, to marry him. Mad with grief at the loss of his wife, in his daughter he saw the perfect wife. However, brave Dymphna refused his proposal and fled to the mainland. At the end of her wanderings she found herself in the Kempen region of Geel. The king managed to track her down and personally beheaded his rebellious daughter. Dymphna's heroic resistance made her unprecedentedly popular with the people and she was soon declared a saint. From the High Middle Ages onwards, pilgrims began to flock to Geel. Here, Dymphna is revered as the patron saint of the mentally afflicted. Her martyrdom is at the root of the centuries-old tradition of care, compassion and charity. Today, Geel is also known for its extensive care network and its unique approach to treating psychiatric patients, who are cared for in the homes of its residents.

Goossen Van der Weyden, grandson of the famous Rogier, created an exceptional masterpiece at the height of Dymphna's popularity. The monumental altarpiece is a composition of several individual scenes showcasing the life and martyrdom of Dymphna. It was painted in around 1505, for the Norbertine monks of Tongerlo Abbey, who hung it in a prominent place in their church.

The Dymphna altarpiece was recently acquired by The Phoebus Foundation. The panels were subjected to an extensive restoration project lasting more then three years. History has not been particularly kind to the artwork. In its five hundred years of existence, the masterpiece has been cut up, neglected, vandalised, stolen and even forgotten. A team of conservation and restoration specialists from The Phoebus Foundation worked closely with national and international experts to restore the paintings to their former glory. Discover the incredible stories, forgotten for centuries, which unfold under layers of dust and dirt. An interactive scenography immerses you in the remarkable world of Dymphna.


Can't get enough of Dymphna's story after visiting the exhibition? At the end of your visit, be sure to stop by the museum shop in St Dymphna's Church, to add the book of the same name, Crazy about Dymphna, to your collection. Tip: on presentation of your ticket, you will receive a €15 discount on the book. Didn't visit the museum shop but want a copy of the Crazy about Dymphna book for your collection? Don't panic, because the book is also available online (without the discount).