October 19, 2017

Saint Irene of Tomar, Virgin and Martyr

Saint Irene of Tomar

Historically October 20th is the feast of Saint Irene, the legendary 7th century Portuguese nun martyred in defense of her chastity in 653. Her shrine called the "Santarem," (Portuguese for "Saint Irene") has played a key role for the great quality and beauty of the Catholic Faith that the Portuguese people have lived.

Irene, a most beautiful and chaste girl, was murdered before she reached the age of 20. Her noble and God-fearing parents, wishing to prepare her both spiritually and intellectually to assume her rightful position in society, sent her to a convent school and then arranged for a monk to tutor her privately at home. An assiduous pupil and devout believer, the only times Irene left the safety of her house was to attend mass or to pray in the sanctuary dedicated to Saint Peter on his feast-day.

On one of these occasions, a young nobleman named Britald happened to see her and fell desperately in love with her. Every time she went out he waited to catch a glimpse of her, followed her to church, and eventually made his feelings known to her. Irene refused his advances, making clear that she would never marry him.

Rejected, Britald fell into a deep depression. He became so ill that the doctors who were called to tend him gave him up for lost. Hearing of this, Irene visited him and informed him that she had refused him because she was no longer free, having already taken a vow of virginity. Britald at once accepted her decision and gradually recovered his health. Before Irene, he pledged to respect her vow of virginity. They parted, promising each other they would meet again in Paradise.

Irene returned to her life of seclusion and study, intending to make her entrance into the convent. But the monk who was tutoring her privately proved to be a lecherous scoundrel, and behaved towards her in a manner as dishonorable as Britald's was honorable. Irene repulsed him and had him dismissed at once. In revenge, the monk began to spread slanderous rumors about her. As to why he no longer gave Irene private lessons, he replied falsely that she was with child.

This rumor quickly spread throughout the town and at length reached Britald who, being frank and trusting, believed what he was told. In a passion of rage and jealousy, he hired a mercenary soldier to kill Irene. Soon afterward, as she was returning home from visiting an old man who was crippled, the assassin approached from behind, killing her with one stroke of his sword. St. Irene of Tomar, help us remain chaste and heroic in virtue to the end. [Adapted source]

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