For a priest, it represented the ultimate in weapons, a staff designed to assist with the greatest of healers or the darkest of shadowy specters. For others, the staff was a signal that the healer they'd just run into was one of the few and highly skilled, capable of keeping them alive in the darkest of situations. Though epic in quality, the staff Benediction was akin to a legendary in stats and appearance. Clicking on Benediction wouldn't give you wings or turn you into a mount; instead, the staff transformed into Anathema, a completely different staff with a completely different set of stats.
There has never been another weapon released with Benediction's glimmering golden model or with Anathema's dangerous silver spines. Benediction is no longer obtainable in game; it was removed when Cataclysm was introduced. But for players in vanilla WoW lucky enough to get the appropriate quest drops, Benediction represented the best of the best in healing staves for the majority of the original iteration of the game. Others looked at the weapon with awe, but the lucky priest who wielded it knew there was more to the staff than a set of killer stats.
Benediction may have been a brilliant weapon, but its origins were stained with the blood of thousands of innocents.
Once upon a time in the days before World of Warcraft, there was a plague that swept across the kingdom of Lordaeron with deadly swiftness. This plague, the plague of undeath, was spread through the distribution of tainted grain to the various towns and hamlets. Once the grain was ingested, those who were unlucky enough to eat it would die -- but the horror didn't stop there. After death, the dead would be raised back to life, a tool for the rising armies of the Scourge.
Prince Arthas Menethil was sent to investigate the reports of this strange sickness, along with Jaina Proudmoore. The two discovered the grain plot and the man behind it -- the necromancer Kel'Thuzad. Though Arthas slew Kel'Thuzad, the tainted grain had already been distributed to the various cities of Lordaeron, including its largest, Stratholme.
What followed next was a bloodbath, but it wasn't at the hands of the Scourge. Prince Arthas, determined to halt the spread of the plague, ordered the Knights of the Silver Hand to purge the city before the plague had a chance to spread. Uther and Jaina refused, and Arthas disbanded the Knights of the Silver Hand and set about the task himself with those few that followed his orders. The citizens of Stratholme were systematically murdered, whether they had tasted of the tainted grain or not.
And not far from Stratholme, high on a hill, a lone priestess stood, desperately trying to heal those who fled from the carnage. Hopelessly outnumbered, she valiantly stood her ground until at last the waves of Scourge risen from the fallen peasants she tried so valiantly to save took her life as well.
Years later, players who fought their way through the terrors of Molten Core and defeated Majordomo Executus found a peculiar item stored away in his cache of treasure -- The Eye of Divinity. Priests who peered through the Eye saw the final moments of the priestess, just before she expired. And if the priest lucky enough to hold the Eye made the trip to the hills just west of Stratholme, they would find the spirit of the priestess, Eris Havenfire, forever bound to the site of the slaughter along with the thousands that were slain by Arthas Menethil.
Eris had a plea for the priest that held the Eye, a plea for redemption. Though Eris herself could not hold back the waves of Scourge and save the frightened peasants of Stratholme, perhaps a priest powerful enough to hold the Eye of Divinity could. Thus began one of the most challenging quests in vanilla WoW, a trial of every spell in a priest's arsenal. It wasn't an easy task; many of the spells priests take for granted today weren't available in vanilla WoW.
Priests had to heal the spirits of peasants as they fled while fighting off waves of Scourge -- and priests did not have any real defensive spells. In order to survive the brutal pummeling, many priests used Oil of Immolation and Stratholme Holy Water in quick succession, the fire aura of the oil and the small AoE effect of the water being just enough to kill the attacking Scourge, allowing the priest to focus on hitting each peasant with a Renew or dispelling an affliction from them as they made the slow trek.
Lest you think this might be easier with assistance, a caveat was put into place -- the priest had to handle this task alone, just as Eris did years before. If a clever priest tried to get away with outside help, they would find themselves abruptly failing the event, unable to attempt it again for two hours. This was a test for the priest, and the priest alone.
For the priest who succeeded, Eris had a reward -- a splinter of the World Tree Nordrassil. Exactly how Eris got her hands on a piece of Nordrassil is unknown; however, given the timelines and the fact that Kalimdor wasn't settled by humans until after the events in Stratholme, it can be assumed that perhaps the splinter was passed down by a high elf, one of the former kaldorei who found themselves on the Eastern Kingdoms in exile.
The Eye of Divinity and the Splinter of Nordrassil were powerful items, but one more item was needed to create Benediction. For where there is Light there is always Shadow, creating a balance of Light and dark; thus, players had to obtain The Eye of Shadow from one of the many powerful demons in the Blasted Lands or in the charred desolation of Darkwhisper Gorge in southern Winterspring.
Once all the items were procured, the priest could combine them to create Benediction. The early iteration of the staff was slightly buggy; switching from Benediction to Anathema and back again would wipe any enchantments placed on the staff. Usually, priests chose either one or the other to wield, until the issue was fixed in a later patch.
For a raiding priest in the early days of vanilla, Benediction was a visual representation of their mastery of the class, a testament to the skill of the player. Benediction was obtainable up until the last days of Wrath of the Lich King; the ability to obtain it was removed in Cataclysm. For some, this was a removal of one of the most beloved quest chains in game. I like to think that Eris and the frightened peasants of Stratholme have finally gone to their rest, free from an eternity of torment at the hands of a maddened prince.
For more reading, take a look at Know Your Lore's history of the Third War.