They Must Sleep in the Center of the Bed
January 9, 2014 1:52 PM Subscribe
posted by Eyebrows McGee (24 comments total)
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Would you take a mentally-ill stranger into your home to live with you like family, possibly for the rest of his life? What if your town had been doing it successfully for 700 years? Welcome to Geel, Belgium
Geel (or Gheel) is the traditional location of the martyrdom of St. Dymphna
, a legendary Irish princess whose father went mad upon her mother's death and beheaded his own daughter after she refused to marry him. In 1349 a church was built on the outskirts of Geel dedicated to St. Dymphna, considered the patron saint of various mental and nervous disorders. Pilgrims suffering from madness and seeking healing began flocking to the town, overflowing the church's ability to house them. The overflow pilgrims were housed by local townsfolk as an act of Christian charity, a tradition that led to widespread tolerance in the town for the mad and troubled, and many of the pilgrims simply stayed, living with the families that hosted them and doing farm labor.
The tradition became a part of town life and continued under Church control until 1850, when oversight was transferred from the Church to the government -- and it so continues to this day, with some boarders having lived with three successive generations of the same host family. "A boarder is treated as a member of the family: involved in everything, and particularly encouraged to form a strong bond with the children, a relationship that is seen as beneficial to both parties. The boarder’s conduct is expected to meet the same basic standards as everybody else’s, though it’s also understood that he or she might not have the same coping resources as others. Odd behaviour is ignored where possible, and when necessary dealt with discreetly. Those who meet these standards are ‘good’; others can be described as ‘difficult’, but never ‘bad’, ‘dumb’ or ‘crazy’."
(Aeon story linked above)
More from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
[I]n Geel, people with chronic mental illness who are not deemed dangerous are not shunted to squalid rooming houses in a rundown part of town, as they often are in Milwaukee. Nor are they left to fend for themselves in homeless shelters or on the streets. They are embraced.
"My father always said, 'These are the best children. They must sleep in the center of the bed,'" said Sister Tarcisia, 86, a nun who grew up with the tradition of keeping boarders in her home. She now lives in the convent at St. Augustine where Geel's tradition began.
of one family