Saint Beon (Benen) of Ireland

Bishop of Armagh, Saint Patrick's chanter


Son of the Meath chieftain, Sechnan (Sessenen or Sesgne), Beon grew up in the district around Duleek which is close to, and in line with, Newgrange and the winter solstice sunrise. When he was a child, he and his family were baptized by Saint Patrick. As a young man he became Patrick’s disciple and psalm-singer (ie. cantor). He was later ordained priest, and in time succeeded Patrick as archbishop of Armagh. Beon 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 Beon were going from Slane to Tara to meet with the high king, Laoghaire, they shape-shifted into deer and so avoided the attempts of the king's guards to intercept them. The fawn in the rear, according to the legend, was Beon. The "Tripartite Life of Saint Patrick" 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 County Leitrim, which was built by Saint Patrick, for some 20 years. He is also said to have assisted in compiling the great Irish code of Laws, the Senchus Mór, as well as the "Book of Rights" and the "Psalter of Cashel."  

William of Malmesbury says that Benen resigned his see in 460 AD and went to Glastonbury to seek out his old master. Patrick is then said to have sent him out to build a remote cell, as a contemplative retreat, in the place where his staff should burst into leaf and bud. This is reported to have happened on the other side of Meare Pool, where the church of Saint Mary’s and All Saints now stands. He died and was buried there some time after succeeding Patrick as the second abbot of Glastonbury. In 1091 his relics were translated from Meare to the abbey, where they were placed alongside Saint Patrick's in the newly redecorated Lady chapel. A great ceremony was held where Abbot Thurstan and a jubilant crowd greeted their arrival by boat. A chapel was built there and dedicated to him under his Latin name of Benignus, a popular name for clerics to take at that time. Saint Benedict’s Church now stands on the site.  

  Saint Beon was adopted as patron of the Glastonbury Taizé choir on November 9th, 2010.