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St. Isidore the Farmer - May 15

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Biographical selection:

Isidore (1070-1130) was the son of poor but devout parents in Madrid. He was raised in the fear of God and from childhood practiced virtue in a very serious way. At a young age he chose to dedicate himself to agricultural labor because he felt that this humble occupation was a more secure means to earn his salvation.

Isidore the Farmer

St. Isidore the Farmer (1070-1130), known for the many miracles & marvels in his life

He was placed in the service of a wealthy landowner of Madrid, Juan de Vargas, to work his lands and later came to administrate his entire estate of Lower Caramanca. He always remained in the service of this man and served him with the greatest fidelity.

He worked with great diligence but arranged his time well so that he never had to leave off any of his practices of devotion. He never started his work day without first hearing Mass and praying to God and the Most Holy Virgin with great fervor.

Once some fellow workers accused him to his master of always being late for work because of his devotions, which caused his production to suffer. Juan de Vargas went to the farm to reprimand Isidore, but when he arrived at the fields, instead of seeing one man plowing at work, he saw three: Isidore was working the center plow and an Angels was ploughing on either side of him.

With this the landlord understood the words the Saint had once spoken to him: The time given to God for devotion is never wasted time.

When Isidore decided to marry, he chose Maria Toribia, a young woman known for her high morals. After the birth of a son, who died as a child, the couple decided to practice continence in their marriage.

Isidore and Caria de la Cabeza

St. Isidore & his wife, St. Maria Toribia

Until the end of her life, Maria was a faithful imitator of her husband's virtues. [After Isidore's death, Maria became a hermit, and by her prayers and miracles merited after her death the name of Santa Maria de la Cabeza, and is often invoked to send rain from Heaven during droughts.]

The Holy Spirit gave to that ignorant farm worker a profound knowledge of the truths of the Faith so that that those who spoke to the Saint marveled at his conversation.

He also received the gift of miracles, which he utilized to succor the poor as well as the animals. His life is filled with marvelous facts of this nature.

He felt sick and predicted his death, preparing himself for it with a double fervor. He died on May 15, 1130 at 60 years of age. He became the Patron Saint of Madrid, and is widely venerated as the patron of farmers, peasants, day laborers and agriculture in general.

Comments of Dr. Plinio:

There are many aspects of the life of St. Isidore worthy of comment:

1. St. Isidore practiced virtue from the time he was a child. This is not how the school of sentimental piety presents things; it always depicts children with foolish faces. Rather, it is proper for Saints to be precocious. He practiced virtue seriously as a boy: He was serious and practiced a virile virtue.

braga st isidore the farmer

St. Isidore, honored worldwide today: above, a tile depiction in Braga, Portugal

2. He wanted to be a farm worker because it was a more secure way for him to save his soul. This reminds me of St. Vincent of Paul, who was from a peasant family but had great influence over the Queen of France Anne of Austria. Because of his high connections, many of his relatives asked him to find places for them in Paris. He refused to assist them and told them that working in the fields was much more propitious for their eternal salvation.

You may note in passing the monstrosity of modern technology which wants to eliminate the peasant. The tendency to do away with rural life and force the peasant to live in a small town tends toward this aim. Today these small towns have all the vices of the great cities and, for this reason, do not provide more propitious conditions for the salvation of the soul as they did in the past.

St. Isidore chose to be a farm laborer to favor his eternal salvation, a wise decision.

3. When he was accused by fellow workers of spending too much time on his devotions and not enough time laboring, the implication was that he was harming the landlord. We see that Juan de Vargas was impressed by the accusation because he became indignant and was going to reprimand St. Isidore. The response was magnificent! Although St. Isidore prayed a great deal his production was more, not less: The Angels tripled his work. You can imagine the face of the landlord.

But today Angels no longer appear to employers... In that time men were much better than they are nowadays; this is why the Angels still appeared to them. What a wonderful picture to paint! In a field of Spain with a mountain backdrop, three plows working: St. Isidore driving the central one and an Angel on either side, with the Saint still more luminous than the Angels. What a painting if someone had the talent to paint it…

4. There is a mention that he knew Catholic doctrine quite well and could converse so charmingly on it that many people would come to talk to him. What a marvelous thing a theologian peasant is! He was a man of meditation with the gift of prayer. When the time for conversation came, many drew near to hear what he would say…

You may imagine how, in the evening after the work had ended, St. Isidore would be leaning on the threshold of his house while Maria Toribia was preparing the supper. Then persons would come by and draw near to hear his words. Probably he would speak in parables, like Our Lord, not giving just theoretical doctrine, but with simple stories of the life in the fields, small incidents with strong symbolic and moral teachings.

procession madrid

Madrid honors its patron St. Isidore each year with a grand procession & festival

This is a paradise the man of today no longer can enjoy. Who hears these parables from the pulpits?

5. When the selection mentions that he helped the animals, a wrong picture could come to mind. He was not the type to enlist in a "society to protect animals." There is a wrong "humanitarian" or "philanthropic" way to favor animals, which is to prevent the animal from being killed or eaten, etc. Philanthropy is the ape of charity. This tendency to treat animals like humans is not the way the Saints acted with animals.

What is the right way to treat animals? We can observe a lion in nature and admire how it reflects the wrath of God. If the lion has a problem like a thorn in its paw, the man can go to assist it by removing the thorn, as happened in the legend of St. Jerome. This is fine.

Or a person can look at a dove and love it because it reflects the simplicity of God; this is also good. To admire the serpent as a symbol of sagacity is fine. Our Lord advised us to be as wise as the serpent and as simple as the dove.

6. After we have heard about a life like this one, we are moved by admiration and say: "Amazing! What a Saint! There was never anyone else like him!" Then, we read the life of another Saint, and, at the end, we make the same commentary. In fact both commentaries are true. There never was a Saint like this one or that one because each Saint is a special marvel that God made and He does not repeat Himself. In each Saint He shows Himself in such a way that we understand that in that particular way there is no equal.

patron of workers, laborers

St. Isidore, patron saint of farmers,
laborers & agricultural workers

When we will be in Heaven by the mercy of Our Lady and close to her, we will be able to contemplate St. Isidore, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Ignatius of Loyola and all the other Saints. Then, we will understand the hierarchy of virtue that God established in Heaven for the joy of the Celestial Court. Then, we will better comprehend the truth that the ensemble is greater than the sum of all the parts.

When we will be able to contemplate the ensemble of the Saints, we will perceive what a tremendous marvel it is. It will be a so great a marvel that it will even bear comparison with Our Lady, the Greatest Star we can imagine. Then, we will comprehend the greatness of Our Lady.


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Tradition in Action

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Saint of the Day features highlights from the lives of saints based on comments made by the late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Following the example of St. John Bosco who used to make similar talks for the boys of his College, each evening it was Prof. Plinio’s custom to make a short commentary on the lives of the next day’s saint in a meeting for youth in order to encourage them in the practice of virtue and love for the Catholic Church. TIA thought that its readers could profit from these valuable commentaries.

The texts of both the biographical data and the comments come from personal notes taken by Atila S. Guimarães from 1964 to 1995. Given the fact that the source is a personal notebook, it is possible that at times the biographic notes transcribed here will not rigorously follow the original text read by Prof. Plinio. The commentaries have also been adapted and translated for TIA’s site.