There is a town in Belgium called Geel (Hyale), with a remarkable 700 year old custom of compassion.
Its origin lies in a legend about a seventh century Irish princess named Dymphna. When Dymphna’s mother died, her father went mad, insisting on marrying her. Dymphna fled to the continent. When he caught up to her in Geel, he beheaded her. Dymphna was sainted, and pilgrims began visiting the site of her martyrdom in search of miraculous cures, especially for mental illness.
A church was built in 1349, and later, an annex to house the visitors. Eventually, the townspeople began to welcome the mentally ill relatives of pilgrims into their homes as “boarders.” For the townspeople, it was an act of charity to open up their homes. “Boarders” stay with their hosts for long periods of time, as many as fifty, or even 80 years, becoming part of the family.
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