ST. ISIDORE the FARMER or HUSBANDMAN:
Patron of Farmers and
Patron of Madrid, Spain
1070 – 1130
Our saint of the day – St. Isidore – always has to have the qualifying title – “the farmer” – after his name to distinguish him from his illustrious namesake St. Isidore, Bishop of Seville who was also their patron saint. Little did his parents dream that their son – poor as they were – would someday become not only a saint, but also a patron saint of Madrid, Spain.
Yet their Isidore who was not well educated and remained a simple farm worker all his life – accomplishing no great deeds, inspiring no disciples, nor leaving behind any profound unforgettable saying or teaching became a saint. In fact he was canonized in a magnificent ceremony by Pope Gregory XV in March 1622 on the same day as four of the giant figures of the Catholic Reformation: St. Ignatius, St. Francis Xavier, St. Teresa and St. Philip Neri.
What, you might well ask, was this obscure, virtually unknown farmer doing among these “great saints”?
His Simple Pious Lifestyle
Born of poor pious parents at Madrid, Spain he spent his entire life working as a simple farm laborer on the same great estate just outside of Madrid of the same rich landowner named John de Vargas. Though his parents were so poor that they could not send him to school, they early instilled in him a great horror of sin and love of prayer.
Because his parents instilled in him a great love of prayer he continually prayed while working, loving his communing with God and the saints. He also early developed the habit of waking up at the crack of dawn to go daily to mass.
Because he was an excellent fine hardworking ploughman his boss allowed him to go and worship in church daily and even treated him as a brother.
However when his fellow laborers complained that his daily mass – going and other religious practices such as visiting the other churches of Madrid during holidays caused him to often come late for work, John decided to see for himself if this was really true.
One day as John himself came to watch he observed that Isidore did indeed come in late after his co-workers. But as he stepped out to take him to task for his lateness he noticed something very strange. He saw white oxen plowing the field parallel to that of the team of Isidore. He realized that supernatural help probably from angels was sent by God to help Isidore make up for the work he missed in return for his attending Mass so faithfully.
However Isidore vigorously denied this saying, “I work alone looking only to God for my strength.” As for the accusation that he neglected his work in order to go to mass he told his boss, “I know, Sir, that I am your servant, but I have another Master as well, to whom I owe service and obedience.”
Great Love for the Poor
Isidore was well known for his great love for the poor. Though poor himself he was always generous giving whatever he could to those even poorer than him. His generosity was so great that his table was always open to the indigent only saving for himself and his good wife the scraps of food left over.
One day Isidore came late for a confraternity dinner so his hosts saved his portion. To their consternation Isidore arrived bringing with him a large group of beggars. When the hosts informed Isidore of the lack of food he told them not to worry as there would be plenty for himself and for Christ’s poor. There was – to the extent that there was food left over. So many miracles such as this was attributed to Isidore that he had a lasting influence on the people of Spain.
Great Love for Animals
Another of Isidore’s great love was for animals. He was known for his great good care of them. A story often told about Isidore recounts that one wintry day as he was on his way to have his sack of grain to be milled he saw on the branches of a tree some birds who were obviously starving and very hungry. Moved by the sorrowful noise of the hungry birds and ignoring the taunts of his companions Isidore sat his sack down and immediately opened it and shared what he had by pouring out half of its contents for them. The strange thing was that when he reached the mill they found the sack to be still full. Not only that it was discovered to produce double the usual amount of flour.
So many other similar stories are told about this simple holy peasant who died in May 15, 1130. Since that time many other miracles were attributed to him.
About eighty years after his death Isidore is said to have appeared to the King of Castile who was then embroiled in a fight with the Moors. Because he showed him a hidden path the King’s soldiers were able to surprise and defeat the enemy.
Another intercession of Isidore brought gravely ailing King Philip III of Spain back to good health snatching him from the brink of death simply by the bringing of his relics to the King’s sick room. It was then that King Philip petitioned for his canonization.
So many miracles took place in his shrine in Madrid that his aid has been sought over the centuries and granted to several Spanish monarchs.
But the greatest miracle of all is his being included as one of the “five saints of Spain.” Of the five saints canonized that March 1622 by Pope Gregory XV only Isidore founded no order and accomplished no great deeds. Neither did he not being well educated leave any teachings nor left any disciples. He was just a simple farm worker. But because his faith was attended by visible signs and wonders such as miracles and celestial visions and he was famous for his generosity even to animals he was declared a saint. Not only is he the patron of farmers, but of Madrid, of laborers and of the National Rural Life Conference in the United States. So though just one of the “little ones” so beloved of God living a very ordinary life who was not even a monk his type of sainthood is surprisingly rare in the list of canonized saints. However the Church has an “instinct of celebrating ordinary as well as extraordinary people’s lives.”
“It matters not to God what station you have in life as long as you use the talents which He has given to you in His service – in most cases this means service to your neighbor.”
Isidore had married a lovely girl named Maria Torribia who was as pious and simple as himself. Unfortunately they had an only child, a boy, who died young. It is said that after his death they agreed to live in continence.
Because Maria shared her husband’s devotion, poverty and generosity she too is honored as a saint under the name Santa Maria de la Cabeza because her head is often carried during a procession in time of drought.
Depictions of Isidore
Generally Isidore is represented as a peasant carrying a farm implement as a spade or a sickle. Sometimes he is depicted at work in the field accompanied by angels.
SOURCES of REFERENCE
ST. ISIDORE the FARMER
Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Vol. II – pp 323 – 324
Pocket Dictionary of Saints – p 258
The Watkins Dictionary of Saints – p 121
A Calendar of Saints – p 94
All Saints – pp 213 – 214
A Year with the Saints – May 15
Butler’s Saint for the Day – pp 220 – 221
Illustrated Lives of Saints – Vol. 1 – pp 207 – 208
My First Book of Saints – pp 100 – 101
Saints for Our Time – pp 105 – 106
Saint of the Day – pp 106 – 107
Saints – A Visual Guide pp 204 – 205
The Everything Saints Book p 271
Book of Saints – Part 3 – pp 6 – 7