St. Benen of Ireland, Bishop of Armagh, Saint Patrick's chanter

9 November

Died c. 468. Son of the Meath chieftain Sechnan (Sessenen or Sesgne), Benen grew up in the district around Duleek. He and his family were converted in his childhood and baptized by Saint Patrick. The story is told that Benen worshipped Patrick as a hero. He had heard the tale of the great saint's chariot driver laying down his life to save Patrick. He was in awe, but too young to do much. So when after baptizing Benen, Patrick fell into an exhausted sleep in a quiet corner of the family's garden, he wondered what he could do to honour the saint. He noticed the dust of the road on Patrick's clothes was attracting insects, so he scattered some strongly scented flowers over the sleeping man. When the boy was chastised for doing this, Patrick responded: "Don't send him away. He's a good boy. It may be that he will yet do wonderful things for the Church."

At that moment Benen became the apostle's disciple and companion. We are told that when the apostle wanted to continue his journey, Benen rolled himself into a ball in Patrick's chariot, clung to the saint's feet, and begged to accompany him to Tara. Patrick agreed to take the youngster with him, although everyone else thought he was too immature. Patrick assured them that Benen would be fine-- and he was. He never returned home.

And so, as Benen matured, he became Patrick's confidant, 'Psalmsinger,' and right-hand man. He sang for every Service said by Patrick, thereby learning how to teach and preach the faith. Eventually Benen was ordained priest, and in time succeeded Patrick as archbishop of Ireland. Benen is known for his gentleness, charm, and beautiful singing voice.

The story is told that once on an Easter Sunday when Saint Patrick, his eight companions, and the boy Benignus were going from Slane to Tara to confront the high king, Laoghaire, they were miraculously turned into deer and so avoided the attempts of the king's guards to intercept them en route. The fawn in the rear, according to the legend, was Benignus. The "Tripartite Life" tells it this way:

"Patrick went with eight young clerics and Benen as a gillie with them, and Patrick gave them his blessing before they set out. A cloak of darkness went over them so that not a man of them appeared. Howbeit, the enemy who were waiting to ambush them, saw eight deer going past them, and behind them a fawn with a bundle on its back. That was Patrick with his eight, and Benen behind them with his tablets on his back."

He is credited with evangelising Clare, Kerry, and Connaught, and reportedly headed a monastery at Drumlease in Kilmore, built by Patrick, for some 20 years.

Benen's connection with Glastonbury has no historical basis; however, William of Malmesbury relates that Benen resigned his see in 460, and went to Glastonbury, to seek out his old master. Patrick is said to have sent him out to live as a hermit at the first place where his staff should burst into leaf and bud. It is related that this happened in the swampy environs of Feringmere, which is where Benen died and was buried. In 1091, someone's relics were translated from that site to Glastonbury Abbey, but they were not Benen's (Benedictines, Bieler, Concannon, D'Arcy, Delaney, Curtayne, Healy, Montague, Ryan).

Troparion of St Benen
Tone 1
O best loved disciple and successor of Ireland's Enlightener,
thy God-bIessed witness for our saving Faith, is sorely needed,
most reverend Hierarch Benen. Entreat Christ our God
that He will raise up new disciples to bring thy native land out of this present Dark Age
and restore it to the True Light of Orthodoxy
for the salvation of men's souls.

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