In 303, Emperor Diocletian issued a decree making it an offense punishable by death to possess any portion of sacred Christian writings. Irene and her sisters, Agape and Chionia, daughters of pagan parents living in Salonika, owned several volumes of Holy Scriptures, which they hid. This made the girls very unhappy because they could not read them at all hours as was their wont.
The sisters were arrested on another charge–that of refusing to eat food that had been offered to the gods–and taken before the governor, Dulcetius (Dulcitius). He asked each in turn why they had refused and if they would still refuse. Agape answered: “I believe in the living God, and will not by an evil action lose all the merit of my past life.”
Thus, Chionia and Agape were condemned to be burned alive, but, because of her youth, Irene was to be imprisoned. After the execution of her older sisters, their house had been searched and the forbidden volumes discovered.
Irene was sent to a soldiers’ brothel, where she was stripped and chained. There she was miraculously protected from molestation. So, after again refusing a last chance to conform, she was sentenced to death. She died either by being forced to throw herself into flames or, more likely, by being shot in the throat with an arrow. The books, including the Sacred Scripture, were publicly burned. Their feast is April 3rd.