Today the church remembers an Irish saint said to have been baptized by Saint Patrick himself: Saint Benen the Gentle, Psalm-Singer and Friend of the Emerald Isle.
St. Benen was the son of clan chief, born in the early 5th Century. When Saint Patrick visited his clan with Celtic Christian teachings, young Benen was baptized and tutored by Patrick in language and theology.
As St. Benen grew he went on trips with Patrick and, while on the road with him, became known for his musical acumen and compositions, making him part of the Irish bardic tradition with Celtic-Christian flavor.
In adulthood St. Benen took a leadership position within the growing Celtic-Christian church, becoming the first rector at the Cathedral School of Armagh.
As it is with all Irish saints, St. Benen has some fun tales surrounding his life. One such tale was that, when tested by a clan chief arguing over religion, St. Benen was put in a flaming house and, like something out of the Hebrew scriptures, was able to sit in that “blazing furnace” with no problem (and he was probably singing).
He died in the year 467, having resigned his rectorship so that a younger generation could take the mantle.
St. Benen is a reminder to me, especially in these lingering pandemic days, of how central song, music, and the arts are to human spirituality. The church is one of the local conservatories of these things. The only place you sing in public is the church and the local bar (unless you’re in a choir).
If public singing is lost, we will be less whole.
-stained glass icon written for Kilbennan St. Benin’s Church Window