Saint Begnet

From Publication of Fas Training Project funded by Local Community, the Employment Levy and EC Structural Funds Sponsored by:
The Corporation of Dunlaoghaire Dalkey Business Association.

Saint Begnet

There are several varying accounts as to the identity of Saint Begnet, the Patron Saint of Dalkey, yet the stories surrounding her life imply that she was a remarkable woman.

The name Begnet is most likely a diminutive form of Beg or Bec. The common theme running through these accounts of the life of Begnet is that she was a virgin saint, who either lived as an anchorite or was the first abbess of nuns, on a small island off the Coast of England. There is no reason to assume that these are conflicting stories, as it was quite common in the Early Christian period to have several variations on the lives of saints. One of these stories tells of the remarkable achievements of a young Irish girl in establishing a religious order in England.

The legend of Saint Begnet

Begnet was an Irish princess who lived in the seventh century. According to legend, when she was a child, an Angel appeared to her and asked her to devote her life to the service of God. She did so, and the Angel gave her a bracelet, marked with the sign of the cross, as a symbol of her vocation.

Begnet grew up to become a beautiful woman and had many suitors. Her parents arranged her marriage to the son of the King of Norway. But still dedicated to the vows she had taken, Begnet had no wish to take a husband. To avoid breaking her vows, she left home, leaving everything but the bracelet given to her by the Angel. She found passage in a small boat and sailed to Northumbria on the West Coast of England. There she was received into the Church by Bishop Aidan and became the first abbess of nuns. Her convent was constantly plundered by pirates, so after several years Begnet moved inland towards Cumberland.

After her death, the bracelet became an object of profound veneration. By the twelfth century, accusers and accused were asked to swear their testimony on the bracelet, in the knowledge that a terrible fate would await anyone who dared to swear a falsehood on this sacred relic:

"Whosoever forswore himself upon her bracelet swiftly incurred the heaviest punishment of perjury - a speedy death".

Begnet's connection with Dalkey is not clear. She gave her name to the two churches in the area and Dalkey town and surrounding area was for many centuries known as Kilbegnet. Perhaps she came from Dalkey, or perhaps she sailed from here to pioneer her religious order. It may also be possible the churches were dedicated to her memory by missionaries, spreading the faith after her death.

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