Isidore the Farmer

(c. 1080—1130)

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patron of Madrid. Few details of his life survive through a biography written 150 years after his death. Born of devout parents, he worked as a farm labourer at Torrelaguna near Madrid to the same employer, John de Vergas, all his life. He married S. Maria de la Cabeza; they had a son who died young, after which the couple lived in perfect continence. Isidore would rise early to visit a church, he would pray for long periods while guiding the plough; he would often spend holidays on pilgrimage to local shrines.

Delightful legends about him include his employer seeing a second team of white oxen led by angels who ploughed alongside Isidore, who had been accused of arriving late for work. On another occasion, in deep mid-winter, Isidore saw a number of disconsolate hungry birds perching on a branch, while he was carrying a sack of corn. In spite of his companion's jeers he gave half the corn to the birds, while the remainder yielded a double amount of flour.

Miracles and a cult followed his death, and his body was translated in 1170. In 1211 he is said to have guided King Alphonsus of Castile in a vision to an unknown path, which enabled him to make a successful surprise attack on the Moors. In about 1615 King Philip III of Spain was cured of a mortal fever through Isidore's relics being moved into the sick king's bedroom. This led to the Spanish king's petitioning the Holy See for Isidore's formal canonization. This was achieved in 1622, when at one ceremony three other Spanish saints, Ignatius, Francis Xavier, and Theresa of Avila were thus honoured with Isidore. He is an interesting example of a lay saint of humble origin, comparable to Homobonus, Godric, or Walstan, who attained sanctity in life through humdrum occupations, but who posthumously became famous. His emblem is a sickle. His body is reputedly incorrupt. Feast: 15 May.

AA.SS.. Maii III (1738), 512–50; B.L.S., v. 84–5; Bibl. SS., vii. 953–7.

Subjects: Christianity.

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