The Church of Light. Central to the hearts and minds of most of the humans of Azeroth, it has stood as a bedrock of philosophy and faith for humankind throughout the madness of the orcish invasion, the war to restore Stormwind, and to the present day. The heroes who have borne the standard of the Light are many: General Turalyon, Uther the Lightbringer, Tirion Fordring, Alonsus Faol. It has endured betrayals from some of its best and brightest, such as Prince Arthas Menethil. It has sunk its roots into the very souls of humanity and been their beacon and their deliverance from evil.
In Stormwind today, the heart of the Church of Light is the grand Cathedral that dominates the eponymous district. The head of the Church of Light is Archbishop Benedictus, successor to Alonsus Faol, and it is Benedictus who has served as the rock of the faith. During the years that King Varian Wrynn was missing, when dragons and orcs menace Stormwind, Benedictus stood as a shining example, sending young heroes across the sea to root out the Scourge in Razorfen Downs. Even after the King's return and the assault of the very elements on Stormwind, Benedictus used his faith in the Light to defend his city and his people.
The following post contains spoilers for Patch 4.3, especially the Hour of Twilight dungeon and the novel Thrall, Twilight of the Aspects.
Before the Light
Benedictus wasn't born an archbishop, of course. We know that he was a student of Alonsus Faol, the great figure who saw the need to train warriors to help defend humanity from the invasion of the orcish Horde during the First and Second War. Faol's Holy Order of Northshire Clerics would become both the foundation for the Silver Hand and the modern Church of Light.
Some claim that Benedictus was born a merchant's son named Jarl. A native of Lordaeron, he embraced the Holy Light after a chance meeting with an old traveler. A pack of mercenaries nearly slew them both, and he petitioned to join the Church in order to repay the Light for his survival. Upon so doing, he met and became the student of Faol, after the great Archbishop's triumph in creating the Order of the Silver Hand and reforming the Church of the Holy Light.
Faol was either a native of Stratholme or first rose to prominence there. He was Bishop Faol at the time he met Uther. The others who would become the first paladins (Turalyon, Gavinrad the Dire, Saiden Dathrohan, Uther himself and Tirion Fordring) were all recruited from members of the Holy Order who had survived the evacuation of Northshire following the destruction of Stormwind.
Following the Second War, Faol returned to Stormwind and began work on a new home for the growing Church of the Holy Light, with Benedictus in tow as his loyal student, ally and friend. While the dream for the structure was Faol's, Benedictus did much of the work of rallying its construction. Together, the two men helped raise money not only to build the Cathedral but also to help rebuild Stormwind. When Faol died (seemingly of old age), Benedictus took on the mantle of Archbishop and consecrated the newly constructed home to the Holy Light to Faol himself, who had been teacher and mentor not only to himself personally but to many of the greatest heroes of the wars.
During the Third War, Stormwind found itself isolated, as the rest of humanity's kingdoms sealed themselves away, were lost to the Scourge and the Burning Legion, or were simply lost as if they had never been. Benedictus kept up Faol's example during this trying time, although like the rest of the city, he could do little but watch the flood of refugees from once-great Lordaeron and minister to his people. After the war's end, Benedictus served as a stable element in a city reeling from crisis to crisis, with a King missing, a child on the throne and treachery behind the scenes. He wasn't too busy to help those in need or so passive that he would allow threats to Stormwind to pass.
Even in a city where the House of Nobles had caused tension with the trade unions and the common man often distrusted those who ruled them, very few would say anything against Archbishop Benedictus. When King Varian Wrynn returned, he found in Benedictus a spiritual advisor and ready ear.
Sadly, not all was as it seemed. For the former student of Faol, the kindly and stalwart Archbishiop, the great leader and pastor for all of the Church of the Holy Light and bastion of Stormwind was no longer the real Benedictus.
We don't know when Benedictus turned. Was he the mysterious Black Bishop who tried to destroy Stormwind Cathedral? We know that the irony of subverting a man to destroy his own life's work would appeal to the Old Gods. It's clear that Benedictus, who lost most of his family to the Scourge during the Third War, was potentially primed to lose his faith and fall prey to the Twilight's Hammer message of destroying and remaking the world in a more perfect manner. For a man such as Benedictus, who had done so much for so many yet failed those closest to him, what good was the Light if he couldn't use it to save his closest loved ones? Benedictus himself says, "I looked into the eyes of the Dragon, and I despaired." Did it happen during the Elemental Invasion, when Deathwing came to Stormwind and destroyed the park, or before? We don't know. What we do know is that a once-good man fell to doubt, then anguish, and finally turned his back on the ethos he'd spent his life defending.
Some argue that it was all a sham from the start, that Jarl petitioned to join the Church always intending to betray it, that Archbishop Faol's death was suspicious and engineered to get Benedictus in a position of power. The truth hasn't been revealed yet, but I doubt it, based on Benedictus' words when he confronts Thrall: "If only you'd seen what I've seen, then you'd understand."
Despite everything, however, in the end Benedictus died a victim of the madness that had driven him so far from the Light he'd once served, cut down by the heroes of Azeroth escorting the World-Shaman to his destined confrontation with the Aspect of Death. So ended the life of Jarl, a merchant's son from Lordaeron, who embraced the Holy Light only to die in darkness through his own actions. He lived a beacon, an example to many of faith and righteousness, someone they trusted in. If only he hadn't seen what he'd seen.
While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.