Posted by: anna | November 22, 2010

St. Benignus the Psalmsinger

Today (9 November) we commemorate St. Benignus the Psalmsinger (ca. 466) – another patron for choir singers and conductors. celt-saints wins hands-down as today’s best source:
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St. Benen (Benignus) of Ireland, Bishop of Armagh, Saint Patrick’s chanter
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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-blessed 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.

2011 update: another troparion from Acathistes et offices orthodoxes

Ton 2 Tropaire à saint Bénen d’Irlande, (Natalice en 474 A.D.)

Enfant de la verte Erin, après ton baptême,*
Tu t’es consacré à l’Eglise du Seigneur.*
Psalmiste talentueux, ta voix était d’or.*
Higoumène du monastère de Drumlease,*
Tu succédas à saint Patrick comme archevêque.*
Saint Bénen intercède pour notre salut!

Son of the green isle of Erin, after your baptism,
You consecrated yourself to the Church of the Lord.
Talented psalmist, you had a golden voice.
Abbot of the monstery of Drumlease,
You succeeded St Patrick as Archbishop.
St Benignus, intercede for our salvation!

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Apparently he is sometimes portrayed with St Patrick, but I can’t find any icons of Patrick showing Benen as well.
  • Baring Gould, who avoids the whole ‘which is which’ confusion but doesn’t mention his musical bent
  • the other Baring-Gould volumes, with Fisher, do include him – at some length! and provide the fact that Feringmere is an island. Also spelled Ferlingemere and Ferremere. Wish I could figure out where it was.
  • There is a medieval life by William of Malmesbury.
  • O’Hanlon has only been uploaded to archive.org as far as vol.9, end of September, so far…
Holy St Benen, pray to God for us.
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