St. Benen of Ireland, Bishop of Armagh, Saint Patrick's chanter
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
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
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
Troparion of St Benen
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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Page last updated: 2 January 2009
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