Celebrating St. Isidore the Farmer
God invites each of us, no matter our profession or status in life, to become a saint. He gives us each the unique gifts to become one.
Those whom til the soil, produce crops, husband animals, grow forests and coserve our God-given natural resources are perfect examples of professions in the modern context, ones that give abundant opportunity for piety and the virtues of a Christian life. These professions unify the human condition and nature, a state which was sanctified by the example of the primitive holy patriarchs seeking seclusion in the desert.
St. Isidore the Farmer, the patron saint of farmers and laborers in many cities and countries around the world whose feast day we celebrate on May 15, exemplifies this truism.
Isidore was a Spanish day laborer in the service of a wealthy land owner, Juan de Vargas, on his farm near Madrid. Born of poor but devout parents, St. Isidore was a simple man of the earth who lived his life in a spiritual relationship with the land he worked. His parents did not have the means to procure learning for him nor a formal education. They did, however, infuse his soul with the valiant ardor for every virtue, especially for prayer. With his humble and prayerful lifestyle, rich in the performance of good works, Isidore did not need books as a source of meditation for his saintliness. He’s not alone in this regard; St. Irenaeus tells us that entire nations have believed in Christ and abounded in exemplary believers without knowing how to use ink or paper.
Isidore went to work in the fields of Vargas at a very early age, eventually becoming bailiff of his entire estate of Lower Caramanca. He worked on the Vargas estate until his death in 1130 at the age of 60.
St. Isidore attended Mass daily before going to work in the fields. It is reported that once when Isidore was late getting to the field from Mass and his co-workers complained, his master checked and found Isidore at prayer while an angel did his work for him. On another occasion, his master observed an angel plowing on either side of Isidore so that his work was equal to that of three of his fellow laborers.
Attributions to his saintliness are numerous and varied, too numerous to relate entirely in this column. Many graces have been reported at his shrine. Spanish monarchs have sought his counsel and intercessions for centuries. King Philip III of Spain was cured of a deadly disease by touching the relics of the saint. He is said to have appeared to Alfonso of Castile, and to have shown him the hidden path by which he surprised the Moors and gained the victory of Las Nevas de Tolosa in 1212.
Isidore had a strong love of people and animals that he demonstrated with numerous acts of kindness and mercy. An action he took one snowy day when going to the mill with wheat to be ground exemplifies his concern for animals. On his way to the mill 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 wheat on the ground for the birds, despite the mocking of witnesses. When he reached the mill, however, the bag was full, and the wheat, produced double the expected amount of flour. This was a simple act of kindness for a simple member of God’s community of beings in need, emulating Christ’s love for all His creatures.
Isidore is also said to have brought back to life the deceased daughter of his master. On another occasion, to quench this master’s thirst, he caused a fountain of fresh water to burst from the dry earth by banging the ground while plowing.
Isidore was married to Maria Torrobia and they had one son who died in his youth. On one occasion when Isidore was digging a deep well on the estate the son fell into it and he and Maria could do nothing but pray. Their prayers were answered when the well miraculously filled with water which rose to the level of the ground bringing the child with it, alive and well.
Isidore’s wife, Maria, always kept a pot of stew on the fireplace in their humble home because Isidore would often bring home anyone who was hungry. A story goes that one day he brought home more hungry people than usual. She served as many of them as possible with the stew that was in the pot and told Isidore there simply was no more stew to bed served. He insisted that she check the pot again, and she was able to spoon out enough stew to feed them all.
On 2 April 1212, after torrential rains had exhumed cadavers from cemeteries in Madrid, his body was discovered in an apparent state of incorruptibility.
Isidore was canonized March 12, 1622 by Pope Gregory XV with Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, Teresa of Avila and Philip Neri. Together, the group is known in Spain as “the five saints.”
Maria was beatified August 11, 1697 by Pope Innocent XII. She shares the May 15 Feast Day of Isidore and has her own on September 9.
— Donald A. Hegwood is the former dean of the College of Agriculture at Texas A&M-Kingsville. Mr. Hegwood, who resides in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, currently devotes his time to painting, poetry, and leadership in volunteer groups.