In the Bible, Thomas was one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, the one who did not believe Jesus had risen from the grave until he had actually touched him. (Hence the phrase “doubting Thomas.”) According to old legends, Thomas later preached the gospel in faraway India and was eventually martyred there. In one story, Thomas was en route to India as part of a caravan that included an Egyptian merchant.
The merchant’s beloved cat was asleep in his lap, and Thomas commented on the cat’s peacefulness. The merchant commented that his business kept him constantly worried, and that he wished he could find the peace his cat possessed. Thomas told him that he must first find peace with God, and the merchant became one of Thomas’s first converts. He gave Thomas the cat as a gift, and Thomas gave him the Greek name Irene, meaning “peace.”