st.Isidore the Farmer-Confessor

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  st.Isidore the Farmer

Feast Day : May 15 (formerly March 22 in United States, and May 10 and October 25 elsewhere)



Patronage: death of children; farmers and farm laborers; for rain; husbandmen; livestock; Madrid, Spain; U.S. National Rural Life Conference



Also known as: Isadore the Farmer, Isidro Labrador, Isidoro Labrador



Isidore Merlo Quintana was born in or about 1082 in Madrid, Castile (now part of Spain), to a poor peasant family. He was named after St. Isidore, Archbishop of Seville (560–638). Since he was an obscure person in his day, the details of his life are not well known, and accounts vary. Isidore married Maria Toribia (or Torriba, the future St. Maria de la Cabeza). The couple had a child who died as a baby, which they took as a sign that God wanted them to remain childless. Although they continued to live together, they took vows of chastity and remained celibate for the rest of their lives. Isidore was orphaned at the age of 10 and was employed as a day laborer by a wealthy landowner, Juan (or perhaps Ivan) de Vargas, on his estate at Torrelaguna, outside Madrid. He and Maria were very pious. Although he worked hard and diligently, Isidore went to Mass each morning, before going to work in the fields, and took time out during the day for prayers. These habits caused some resentment from his fellow peasants, who complained to Vargas. He went and spoke to Isidore, who defended himself. Still, Vargas followed him to the fields one morning. As he approached Isidore and his plow, he fancied he saw a second plow at work, but as he gained on it, this second plow disappeared. Isidore denied there was anybody there but himself. “Sir, I work alone and know of none save God to whom I look for strength,” he told his master. The incident gave rise to the story that Isidore’s sanctity was so great that angels even helped with his plowing. Another story has it that one snowy day, on his way to the mill with corn to be ground, Isidore passed a flock of hungry pigeons, vainly scratching for food on the frosty earth. As people watched and mocked him, he poured half of his sack out for the birds. By the time he reached the mill, however, the bag was once again full, and when ground, the corn produced twice the usual amount of flour. Isidore always made sure that the oxen and other animals he worked with were treated well, and although he and Maria were themselves poor, they gave freely to the needy. Isidore divided his earnings into thirds, giving one to the church, a second to the poor and keeping only one portion for himself and Maria. One day he was invited to a luncheon, but when he arrived with a group of beggars, his host protested in disgust that only he was invited; Isidore nevertheless divided his meal with those whom he had brought. According to another story, Isidore pricked the ground with his staff and a spring issued forth. The spring, near Madrid, is considered to have healing powers and its waters are bottled as a remedy against sudden illness. Some accounts say that Isidore had to leave Madrid for a time when it was attacked by Moors, but this is dubious because Madrid had been captured from the Moors in 1083, about the time of his birth. Isidore died on May 15, 1130, and was buried in the cemetery. Miracles and cures were reported at his grave, and when his body was transferred to a shrine in the church 43 years later, it was found to be incorrupt, as if he only recently had died. Isidore has enjoyed the support of Spanish royalty. He is said to have appeared as an apparition to King Alfonso VIII of Castile in 1211, and to have shown the king a previously unknown path that he used to surprise and defeat the Moors, who were still holding onto much of what later became a unified Spain. In the 1500s, Charles, king of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, built the Hermitage of the Patron of Madrid after his son Philip was healed by water from a fountain that by tradition had been opened by Isidore to slake the thirst of his master, Juan de Vargas. Isidore’s canonization came at the insistence of King Philip III of Spain (r. 1598–1621), who attributed his recovery from a serious illness (perhaps that which had so impressed his father) to Isidore’s intercession. Isidore’s cult quickly spread beyond Spain, although it is still in Spain that he is most revered. His feast is celebrated in Madrid with ringing church bells, street fairs and a parade. In Spanish art, his emblems are a spade or a plough. He has also been depicted as a peasant holding a sickle and a sheaf of corn; with a sickle and staff; with an angel who ploughs for him; giving a rosary to children by a well; striking water from dry earth with an angel plowing in the background; before a cross; and with an angel and white oxen near him

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