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St. Isidore the Farmer
by Fr. Richard Butler

Saints are known for the lives they lived and also for the devotion fostered in the years that followed their life on earth. When we think of Isidore we are brought back ten centuries (1070 – 1130) to a farm in Spain, a simple life, Isidore and his wife achieving sanctity through basic family values.

The years that followed saw a steady and growing devotion as generation after generation came to the spiritual journey strengthened by his example. Yet it would be five centuries, (1662) before he would be canonized. And then another five centuries to our own day.

The last century saw particular devotion to him as the dignity of the farmer and his/her role in the world community grew. Here in America Isidore became the patron of the National Rural Life Conference. And here in Stow with the founding of the new parish mid-1900s Isidore was chosen as patron.

Artist: Br. Robert Lentz, OFM;
used with permission from www.trinitystores.com

Life of St. Isidore and St. Maria de la Cabeza

Isidore was born in Madrid, Spain, 1070; died there in 1130; canonized in 1622.

The saint was born into a peasant family. He was baptized Isidore in honor of the famous archbishop of Seville. His unreliable biography was written about 150 years after his death. Much of it deals with miracles associated with his name.

Isidore was a day laborer, working on the farm of the wealthy John de Vergas at Torrelaguna just outside Madrid. He married a poor girl, Maria Torribia. They had a son who died while still a baby. The couple took a vow of continence to serve God. Isidore's life is a model of simple Christian charity and faith. He prayed while at work, and he visited the many churches in Madrid and the area while on holidays. He shared what he had, even his meals, with the poor. He often gave them the more than he had for himself.

He was steady and hard-working, but a complaint was made against him to his employer that he arrived late to work because he attended early morning Mass each day. When charged with his offense, he did not deny it and explained to his employer: "Sir, it may be true that I am later at my work than some of the other laborers, but I do my utmost to make up for the few minutes snatched for prayer; I pray you compare my work with theirs, and if you find I have defrauded you in the least, gladly will I make amends by paying you out of my private store."

His employer said nothing, but remained suspicious, and, being determined to find out the truth, rose one morning at daybreak and concealed himself outside the church. In due course, Isidore appeared and entered the building, and afterwards, when the service was over, went to his work. Still following him, his employer saw him take the plough into a field, and was about to confront him when, in the pale, misty light of dawn, he saw, as he thought, a second plough drawn by white oxen moving up and down the furrows. Greatly astonished, he ran towards it, but even as he ran it disappeared and he saw only Isidore and his single-plow.

In such simple tales we find reflected the spirit of Saint Isidore, who never ruled a diocese or was martyred for his faith, but who as truly served God in the fields and on the farm as those in higher places and who bore more famous names.

When he spoke to Isidore and enquired about the second plough he had seen, Isidore replied in surprise: "Sir, I work alone and know of none save God to whom I look for strength." Thus the story grew that so great was his sanctity that the angels helped him even in his plowing. It was characteristic of Isidore's entire life. He was a simple plowman. His speech was clear and direct. His conduct was honest, and his faith pure and steadfast. He was a poor man, but gave away what he could, with a good and generous heart, and with such sympathy and good will that his gifts seemed doubly blessed. He could not neglect doing a kindness to man or beast.

One snowy day, when going to the mill with corn to be ground which his wife had gleaned, he passed a flock of wood-pigeons scratching vainly for food on the hard surface of the frosty ground. Taking pity on the poor animals, he poured half of his sack of precious corn upon the ground for the birds, despite the mocking of witnesses. When he reached the mill, however, the bag was full, and the corn, when it was ground, produced double the expected amount of flour.

His saintly wife survived Isidore for several years. Forty years after his death, his body was transferred to a shrine, and his cultus grew as a result of miracles attributed to his intercession. He is said to have appeared in a vision to King Alphonsus of Castile in 1211, and to have shown him an unknown path, which he used to surprise and defeat the Moors. His canonization occurred at the insistence of King Philip III, who attributed his recovery from a serious illness to Isidore's intercession. He was canonized with four very notable Spanish saints. The group, known as "the five saints", included St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis Xavier, St. Phillip Neri, and St. Isidore.

In art, Saint Isidore is portrayed as a peasant holding a sickle and a sheaf of corn. He might also be shown (1) with a sickle and staff, (2) as an angel plows for him, (3) giving a rosary to children by a well, mattock on his feet, water springing from the well, (4) striking water from dry earth with an angel plowing in the background, (5) before a cross, or (6) with an angel and white oxen near him.

St. Maria de la Cabeza

Maria died c. 1175 and was beatified in 1697. She became a hermit like St. Isidore; Maria, too, performed miracles and merited after her death the name of Santa Maria de la Cabeza, meaning Head, because her head, conserved in a reliquary and carried in procession, has often brought down rain from heaven for the afflicted countryside. Her remains are honored by all of Spain by pilgrimages and processions at Torrelaguna, where they were transferred in 1615.