Farmer and husband
On March 12 1622, Pope Gregory XV canonised five great saints: St Ignatius and St Philip Neri, founders of the Jesuits and the Oratory respectively; Francis Xavier, the pioneering missionary to the East; St Teresa of Avila, reformer of the Carmelites; and a Spanish farm labourer of the 12th century, who went to Mass every morning and then ploughed the fields.
Born in Madrid in 1070, the child of devout parents, St Isidore soon entered the service of the rich landlord Juan de Vargas.
Isidore was married to Blessed Maria Torribia – to whom there is a considerable devotion in Spain, though she has not yet been canonised – and they had a son. One day the child fell into a deep well; miraculously, the water level rose and his life was saved. In thanksgiving, Isidore and Maria, like many married saints, vowed to live in perpetual continence.
The humdrum routine of his day – prayer, Mass, hard work, the evening meal – was enriched by devotion to God, and often illuminated by miracles. On one celebrated occasion, his fellow labourers complained that Isidore was going to Mass in Madrid and leaving his work undone.
De Vargas went to check on Isidore’s work, and found that an angel was ploughing the fields while the saint was in church.
Isidore would invite the poor into his house to eat, and there are stories of the pot of stew miraculously replenishing itself to feed the hungry. Maria outlived him, eventually becoming a hermit.
The miracles continued after death: in the 13th century, King Philip III of Spain was cured by a relic of St Isidore. Madrid has adopted St Isidore as its patron saint, and holds a grand procession on May 15. Similar celebrations take place in Peru, Chile, Mexico, the Philippines and the US.