Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Irene, Virgin and Martyr

Saint Irene of TomarArticle

In the eighth Century, lived at Villa de Toma, a city of Portugal, a very pious married couple, named Hermigius and Eugenia, who had one daughter, to whom they had given the name of Irene. As soon as the latter was old enough to be instructed, they requested Selius, Abbot of a neighboring monastery, who was a brother of Eugenia, to give her in charge of a religious that she might be instructed in the Christian doctrine and also learn to read and write. Selius received Irene joyfully and placed her in a house not far from his monastery, where two of his sisters and some other ladies lived, who were all instructed by a religious, named Remigius. For several years all went well, and Irene not only progressed in her studies, but also became a model of virtue and piety. She already at that time resolved to enter a convent, and bestowed all her care on preserving her innocence and chastity without spot, so that she might make a worthy sacrifice of it to the Almighty. She loved solitude, and never left the house except when she went with her companions to church. Britaldus, a noble youth, who one day saw her on such an occasion, became inflamed with passion towards her. He most eagerly sought an opportunity to see her alone, and to make her acquainted with his designs; but as she never appeared alone and he was not allowed to enter the house where she was, he saw no way to attain his end. Still, he did not curb his passion, which at last grew so violent, that he became sick with grief, and seemed slowly to pine away. When Irene was informed of this, she pitied, with her whole heart, the soul of the unhappy youth. Taking counsel with God in prayer, she took courage, and went to him with some respected person, intending to cure him of his wicked folly. Britaldus hesitated not to inform her of the cause of his sickness; but the chaste virgin reproved him with such earnest words that he acknowledged his wickedness, repented of it and promised to reform. He thanked Irene . when she went away, for having saved his soul and body from ruin by her Christian exhortations, adding, however, that if she ever gave her love to any man, it should be to him, as otherwise she would pay it with her life. Irene replied that she had given her heart entirely to God, and therefore, that he should discard all such thoughts and care only for the salvation of his soul and the health of his body. After this, Irene left him, and returning to her convent, she gave thanks to God for having sustained her with His grace, and continued in her zeal for His service. Suddenly, however, she was placed in far greater danger of losing her purity then heretofore. Remigius, who until now had led her in the path of virtue and piety, fell himself into the snares of the devil. Irene, horrified at this, reproved him for his wickedness. Remigius was frightened at her words, but not converted; for, to revenge himself, he administered to her, a few days later, a potion which disfigured her. The rumor of this soon spread through the entire city, and Britaldus, when it reached his ears, became so enraged that he resolved to kill her, and hired one of his servants to commit the bloody deed.

The innocent Irene meanwhile was oppressed with sadness. To her other sufferings were added suspicion and accusation; and she even heard nerself charged with a vice of which she had the greatest horror. She knew also that if she protested her innocence, no one would listen to her, or believe her words. Even her relations abused, shunned and abhorred her. In this pitiful condition, she turned her thoughts to God, who knew her innocence, and begged Him to have mercy on her and save her. To free her heart from its terrible burden of grief, she went, for several days, early in the morning, into a wood near the river Naban, and called aloud to God for help, while the tears streamed down her cheeks. The assassin hired by Britaldus, having observed that she left the house at a certain hour, followed her one day and thrust his dagger into her heart, and threw her dead body into the river. When during several days, nothing had been heard or seen of her, it was thought that she had fled in her despair or perhaps had killed herself. Selius, the pious Abbot, on becoming aware of all the reports which were afloat about Irene, was greatly grieved, and prayed to God that He would make known the truth. His prayer was heard; heaven revealed to him all that had passed, and where to find the holy body of the murdered virgin. Selius, greatly rejoiced, went on the following day, accompanied by his religious and several other persons, to the river. When they had reached the spot where the Naban empties itself into another river, they found that the stream had left its bed, in the middle of which they saw a magnificent coffin, in which lay the body of the chaste Irene still stained with blood. Without doubt the Angels had prepared the coffin and placed the virgin in it. All present wept with joy. The pious Abbot ordered the coffin to be brought to the bank, but it could not be moved, for, God had ordained that his chaste spouse should have her last resting-place on that spot. The Abbot, therefore, cut off some of her hair and a piece of the garment with which the angels had clothed her, and then returned, giving thanks to the Almighty for having revealed the innocence of his handmaid. The river, returning to its bed, buried the coffin under its waters. Britaldus and Remigius, hearing of the miracle, confessed their crimes, went to Rome and did penance until the end of their days. The relics which the Abbot had taken from the virgin were deposited in his church as a sacred treasure, on account of the many miracles which God performed on the blind, lame, and sick, who devoutly touched them. Irene was placed in the number of the holy Virgins and Martyrs.

Practical Considerations

• The chaste Irene was suspected and accused of great sins. Every one was ready to believe her guilty, and spoke ill of her without scruple; and yet all were mistaken, all were deceived. Irene was innocent. They judged her wrongfully; their suspicions were false. Oh! that we would learn how dangerous it is to suspect evil of our neighbor, to speak ill of him, to judge him hastily, or listen to others who slander him. We think sometimes that what so many say must be true; and yet it is false, and the whole affair proves entirely different from what it was suspected to be. Eyes and ears are often deceived. Do you know the best way?

I. Avoid defamers and slanderers so not lend them your ear; prevent the evil done by gossiping, as much as you can. If no one listened to the slanders, and, by agreeing with them, strengthened them in their wickedness, they would soon cease to defame their neighbor’s character or actions. But if we like to listen to them, ask them about several circumstances, or are astonished at what they relate and desire to know more, we give them occasion to become still more daring, and to persevere in their wicked discourse. “Where there are no listeners, there are no slanderers,” says Saint Augustine.

II. Do not easily believe the evil that is told you of your neighbor, as it is known to you that people have been deceived hundreds and hundreds of times.

III. Do not watch the faults of others, if you are not by your duty called upon to do so.

IV. If an evil suspicion is suggested to you, yield not to it, but think: what have I to do with it? it is not my affair; I am not set as a judge over my neighbor. Further, attend more to your own faults, and you will surely be more lenient in judging your neighbor’s, whose failings are not so numerous as your own. “And why see you the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, and see not the beam that is in thine own eye?” says the Lord, our Saviour, (Matthew 7) And Saint Paul says: “Who art you that judgest another man’s servant? To his own Lord he stands or falls.” (Romans 14)

• The chaste Irene was deeply grieved when she heard how they suspected her, how they judged her, and what they said of her. Still more painful must it have been to her when they refused to believe her when she protested her innocence and endeavored to de- fend her good name. What more did she do? Did she call down vengeance on her slanderers? did she complain against the Almighty who allowed it? or did she give way to immoderate sadness? She did nothing of all this. She placed her trust in the Almighty, as witness of her innocence. God neither failed to reveal her innocence to the world, nor to bring to shame her slanderers, though not until after her death. That you should grieve when you are suspected of evil, or judged wrongfully, is no sin; for you are but human, and therefore feel a wrong done you. God permits you also to defend yourself, to vindicate your good name, and protest against false accusations. But when all that you say or do is of no avail to clear you in the eyes of the world, leave your justification in the hands of the Almighty. Abstain from cursing, complaints and murmurs; despond not; for, God will reveal your innocence, if not in this life, on the day of judgment, when all will see, to your great honor, that you were not what they took you to be. Meanwhile, console yourself, as has already been said, with your own conscience, with the example of Saint Irene, nay, even with that of Christ, your Lord, who, defamed and derided, died the death of the greatest criminal. “If we think on the passion of Christ, nothing will seem so hard that we cannot bear it patiently,” says Saint Isidore.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Irene, Virgin and Martyr”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 11 May 2018. Web. 19 September 2018. <>