Martin de Porres vs. Dymphna

Today in the Saintly Smackdown©, Martin de Porres faces Dymphna, as we move between 17th century Peru and 7th century Belgium. To get to the Saintly Sixteen, Martin eased past John of Beverley while Dympha defeated Gertrude of Nivelles.

Yesterday, Phocas the Gardener took down Katharina von Bora 60% to 40% to advance to the Elate Eight against Richard Hooker. This marks the second year in a row that a member of the Luther Family will not win the Golden Halo. Last year, Katharina's husband, some guy named Martin, made it to the Faithful Four before running into the Florence Nightingale juggernaut.

It's hard to believe but the last battle of the Saintly Sixteen will take place on Monday as Eglantyne Jebb faces Catherine Winkworth. Then it's on to the Elate Eight! Enjoy today's vote and we'll see you first thing Monday morning.

Martin de Porres

Martin de PorresSt. Martin de Porres treated all with respect, even when he wasn’t respected in return. He was tireless in his ministry, even when his efforts were questioned and thwarted. He touched many souls, resulting in a long list of patronages in his name.

Born in 1579 and died in 1639, Martin lived entirely in Peru. He was a lay brother of the Dominican Order. It took 198 years for beatification in 1837 and another 125 years for canonization in 1962.

Illegitimate and the son of a freed slave, Martin refused to let obstacles stop him from his social work. He ministered to the sick, whether nobles or slaves, young or old, rich or destitute, educated or illiterate. After being chastised for caring for an old, dirty, ulcerated beggar, Martin remarked, "Compassion, my dear Brother, is preferable to cleanliness."

Another reprimand from the prior happened for ministering to a poor, bleeding Indian. Martin’s retort: "Forgive my error, and please instruct me, for I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity."

A miracle often attributed to Martin occurred during an epidemic. He evidently passed through locked doors to care for the sick in all areas of the facility, with friars suddenly seeing Martin appear next to them. He was also known to offer instant cures to the sick, and to be surrounded by bright light when he prayed.

Martin established orphanages and a hospital for poor children of the slums. He cared for non-humans, too – founding a shelter for stray and sick cats and dogs.

He is known by many names: Martín de Porres Velázquez; St. Martin of Charity; St. Martin the Charitable; the first Black Saint from the Americas; and Saint of the Broom (because no chore, no task, was beneath him).

He hung around with some cool friends who gained fame and notoriety on their own: St. Juan Macías and St. Rose of Lima.

At his viewing, so many sought a relic that his habit was clipped in small pieces, causing three habits to be taken from his body. Reportedly, 25 years after his death, his body was exhumed and was still intact, smelling splendidly.

In artwork, he is often depicted wearing the Dominican lay brother habit with a broom, sometimes with a dog, a cat and a mouse peacefully gathered around the same food dish.

Many people in many places are devoted to St. Martin de Porres. He is the patron saint of African-Americans; barbers; the Roman Catholic Diocese of Biloxi, MS; black people; hair stylists and hairdressers; hotels and innkeepers; lottery winners; Mexico; Mississippi; mixed-race people; Peru; Peruvian Naval Aviators; poor people; public health; public schools; race relations; social justice; state schools; television; Vietnam; all those seeking interracial harmony; and for protection against rats.

-Neva Rae Fox


DymphnaSaint Dymphna has been patroness and brought comfort to those who suffer with mental illness for more than a millennium. She remains actively venerated to this day and is perhaps especially appreciated by those who have felt stigmatized by their diseases. From bipolar disorder to anxiety to the trauma of incest, people pray to her and wear her medal in hopes of intercession. As a renowned beauty, she is a favorite subject of artists.

Princess and daughter to a petty Irish king, Dymphna was baptized along with her mother and dedicated herself as a bride of Christ at the age of fourteen. When her mother died shortly after, her father Damon suffered a mental decline. He sent his servants to find someone as beautiful to replace his wife, but no one could be found.

Accounts are unclear about what caused King Damon to set his sights on marrying his daughter. Some traditions suggest he was advised by evil counselors, others that he confused Dymphna with her mother, and still others that he was unable to resist strange thoughts that entered his head.

Dymphna fled his incestuous plans with her priest, two servants, and the fool from her father’s court. The party took refuge in Geel, Belgium. Several religious hermits lived in the village at that time. Using her father’s money, Dymphna founded a hospital for those who, like him, suffered from mental illness. This action illuminates her compassion both for her distraught father and for those who, like her, had experienced the trauma or grief of a loved one’s mental decline.

Tragically, it was through the expenditure of his money that King Damon was able to trace his daughter to Geel. When she refused to marry him, he murdered her priest, then decapitated her. After she was martyred, her remains were buried in a cave near Geel. Later they were moved to a silver reliquary, however the Church of St. Dymphna still stands on her original burial site. Her relics are associated with the healing of both epilepsy and mental illness. Some of her remains can also be found at the Shrine to Saint Dymphna in the United States (Ohio).

However, Dymphna’s greatest legacy remains the tradition in Geel of compassion to those who suffer from mental illness. Born of her own suffering, her seventh century act of mercy created this culture of care. As pilgrims seeking healing flocked to the town in the middle ages, the Church of St. Dymphna overflowed. So following her example, the townspeople welcomed the afflicted into their own homes, treating them not as patients but family. To this day, the citizens of Geel still do so, opening their homes for weeks or months at a time. Some visitors take refuge in Geel as Dymphna once did and stay their entire lives, finding acceptance and peace thanks to her holy witness.

-Amber Belldene

Martin de Porres vs. Dymphna

  • Martin de Porres (62%, 3,964 Votes)
  • Dymphna (38%, 2,386 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,350

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Martin de Porres: St. Martin de Porres stained-glass window at St. Pancras Church in Ipswich, England./Public Domain
Martin de Porres: St Dominic’s priory church in London
Dymphna: Derry St. Eugene's Cathedral Chancel East Window Lower Panels 2013 09 17, via Wikipedia


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125 comments on “Martin de Porres vs. Dymphna”

    1. Tough choice today. I voted for Dymphna though, because those who suffer from mental illness are so misunderstood and vilified today. They need a patron, and we need to raise awareness.

  1. I voted for Dymphna in support of all victims of incest and other forms of sexual assault.


  2. I found this one difficult (actually I'm finding this whole year difficult - can it be something somebody thought up to do with the matchups to keep us hooked. um, interested? Oh, surely not).
    Anyway, somewhere on Martin's lengthy patronage list is the key to my vote today.

    1. This was difficult for me too. As a child, we always had a statue of St. Martin in our home. I always talk to him during this difficult time in our country. St. Dymphna was always around in our home as well but we need a Martin!!!

  3. Even though Dymphna's memory has helped people with mental illness, the life of Martin won him my vote. Although facing discrimination, he followed God's call to minister to the poor. His witness is important today as we struggle with responses to combat hatred, discrimination, and poverty. Plus I like protection against rats and maybe next power ball he can help me be a lottery winner!

      1. The cat, mouse, and dog sharing food from the same bowl (sometimes there's a bird instead of one of the others) represent his bringing together people of different racial groups - a miracle then as it can be now!

        But he was also said to have told a mouse they found in the monastery that if he would tell all his fellow mice to stay out of the monastery, Martin would bring them food in the garden. It's said that that worked - Martin took food out to the mice, and they stayed out of the monastery!

    1. I think it is worth remarking that you chose Martin over Dymphna on the basis of his record of coming against discrimination, poverty, and hatred which are three things that make living with mental illness such a struggle. If you are able to work with a mental illness, it’s often not at a well paid job, and if you can’t work disability payments keep you well covered in poverty. Hatred and discrimination accompany mental illness through a lack of understanding.
      This is another match in which a difficult choice must be made between two worthy saints.

      1. Lisa from TExas, hello, I am also Lisa from Texas.
        I agree, this was a hard choice. Either one is worthy of our vote!
        I ultimately chose Dynphna, as you did...but I love St. Martin's compassion and ability to put his feelings into words.
        Note: I'm a mental health counselor--and my cat is named Martin--he's no saint, though.

  4. This was a hard decision - two worthy saints! While I love Martin's compassion and pithy comebacks (“Forgive my error, and please instruct me, for I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.”) my vote went to Dymphna.

    I am a bi-vocational priest, serving as an assistant and also working at a nonprofit (Compeer) that matches volunteers in friendship connections with our friends in the community who experience chronic mental illness. There is still too much stigma around understanding and caring for the least of these that many want to ignore in our communities. Go Dymphna!

  5. Sometimes choices seemed easy...but this one is difficult. I went with Martin de Porres but now I want to go to Geel as a kind of tribute to the citizens who followed Dymphna’s example!

  6. Another difficult choice. I wish these wonderous people could stand alon. Finally went with Martin.

  7. Very difficult choice today. Martin by a very small margin for extra courage in speaking truth to power and for the ability to walk through locked doors.

  8. Really a tough choice! Wish I could have voted for both of them. I voted for Martin for his lengthy resume and his, as TJ said, undercover snark.

  9. I'm sure Martin will win this one, and that's fine; both of these saints are worthy of the Golden Halo, imho. And we need people of color to be represented. But I had to vote for Dymphna, as an abuse survivor and advocate for the mentally ill. I even have a medal of her, picked up in a Catholic gift shop. The folks in Geel were so far ahead of their time, it's astounding.

    Honor to both of these wonderful figures.

  10. Dymphna because of the effect she had on the town to welcome the mentally ill into their homes.

      1. And also for suffering with such love the same kinds of abuse women have always suffered. Her compassion while maintaining her innocence is beyond admiration!

  11. Martin definitely wins because of how caring and nurturing towards every race. He stood up for the minorities

  12. I’m from Mississippi so feel compelled to vote for St. Martin, the patron saint I never knew we had.

  13. I had to go back to the Round 1 tape for these two and still it was no easy choice. I hope whoever gets left behind today has a comeback chance in a future Lent Madness. Dymphna inspired the opening of many doors, but I to go with Martin, who passed through all obstacles to stay on his chosen path with humility, compassion, courage, and quiet humor. Anybody who could pill a cat, cut hair, and fly has to be Golden Halo material!

  14. Neither got my vote the first time around, but I'm going w/Dymphoma
    for her mental illness connections in honor of my mother's psychologist
    who was recently murdered.

    1. So sorry for your loss. I was thinking about voting for Martin, and then I read this and voted for Dymphna. Also in support of those who have suffered any kind of sexual assault/abuse.

  15. Martin is an inspiration. And you guys have posed us another iconographic challenge here in the Index of Medieval Art, where we will be hard at work trying to find out why his attributes include the animals eating from the same dish. Almost as tough as Gertrude's cats...!

    1. The animals represent different racial groups in Lima. Not a one-to-one connection, but the fact that he's brought together supposed "natural enemies." As a person of mixed race, Martin himself would've been called a "dog."

  16. My vote goes to Martin, patron saint of lottery winners and for protection against rats -- what a combination.

  17. Shan, I live in Mississippi and never knew we had a saint also. I had to vote for St. Martin. I want to design a mandala of him with a broom and a cat and mouse eating from the same dish. I am inspired to learn more about him. One never knows what one will learn from Lent Madness !!!

  18. Thank you for adding the links to the previous write-ups--very helpful, since I like to reread them to have a fuller picture in mind as I make these difficult choices. I had to go with Martin this time, since I was impressed at how feisty he was in his determination to put his compassion into action.

  19. Dymphna would be a fitting patron for #Metoo. I also love the fact that her entourage included a fool. This is a tough choice today; I'm voting for Martin based on his example of humble service, but Dymphna is worthy.

  20. What a decision! At the moment I am leaning towards Martin for his determination to speak truth to power and for his broom but I am finding it impossible to click the button and leave Dymphna behind. It is astounding that her determination to welcome the mentally ill and to care for them has made such a lasting impression on the town that she lived in. I am going to go for a reflective lie down and perhaps return to my vote later

  21. I had to go with Dymphna. Mental illness and sexual assault carry such stigma, how brave of her to care for these folk when most would shun them. Martin is certainly a worthy person, so I don’t mind if he wins, but my vote went to Dymphna today.

  22. This vote is so hard. There is such a need for ministry and right understanding and compassion towards the many in our society today who struggle with mental illness, but as one trained by Dominicans I have a deep love for Martin de Porres!

  23. As a psychiatrist and a woman, I must vote for Dymphna, who is my matron saint. In my early years of training little was understood about the effects of cruelty toward children in creating the symptoms that we found in our patients. Dymphna was a source of help to us as we looked deeper into her story and the stories of those suffering "mental illness". She taught us that adolescents who run away are often fleeing the intolerable abuse within their family. Her decapitation by her father can be understood as the lingering symptoms of dissociation, the defense the mind is forced to take in times of inescapable torture. Now with the #metoo social movement, Dymphna can stand as the example the reality of sexual abuse of those who are in a vulnerable position and need help both for escape and to express the truth of their of situation.

  24. This was a "Baddy" as far as making a choice. Martin is so widely known, especially among Blacks of many nationalities. The legends, if not realities, of his relics and body after a long time after burial, and many miracles are legendary,,,,BUT...Dymphna's life is legendary and her efforts to heal the mentally ill and women sexually abused strike a chord today. Martin will probably continue the lead he has but I will always vote my heart and conscience, win or lose.