Irene was born to a noble family in Nabância, present-day Tomar, Portugal. She was sent to a convent school and given a private tutor in order to protect her from harm. A young nobleman named Britald happened to see her and fell desperately in love. He followed, and eventually came forward to court, her. She told him that she had vowed celibacy, as she had given herself to God as a nun. Meanwhile, her tutor, the monk Remigius made sexual advances on Irene. When she declined, he quit and began to spread rumors about her. When asked why he had quit, Remigius declared that he left when he learned that Irene was pregnant. He had managed to give her a drink that caused her belly to inflate, so his story seemed to ring true. Britald soon heard these rumors and was so enraged that he hired a mercenary soldier to kill Irene. He achieved this with a single stroke of his sword from behind, while she was returning home from visiting an elderly cripple. Her body was thrown into river Nabão. Legend says that Irene’s uncle abbot Celius received a revelation from Christ about the true story of his niece and the location of her body. He, along with other monks, retrieved her body — finding it uncorrupted — and gave her a proper burial, also spreading the true story of Irene. Thus, she became the patron saint of Tomar, and the namesake of the town Santarém (Saint Irene), near where her body was found. Her feast day is October 20.
Questions for Reflection:
- Even when offered courtship by a nobleman, Irene retained her ideals and kept celibate. What situations have you been in where you were required to decline supposedly beneficial offers in order to keep in line with your morals?
- On the other hand, have you ever been responsible for a hurtful rumor about an innocent person? Though it may not seem to be very important at the time, such things can lead to irreversible harm. How can you try to make up for it?