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World celebrations to St. Isidore the Farmer — the patron saint of agriculture

jaclyn krymowski

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The springtime and planting season have long been a time of a time of personal, societal, and religious significance. This is not just a part of our history, but carries through to our current day. On May 15, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Saint Isidore the Farmer (aka Saint Isidore the Laborer) — he is agriculture’s very own patron saint. As a farmer and husband, he stands unique among the church’s canon of saints — many of which are clergy, virgins or martyrs.

For generations, this 12th century Spanish saint — along with his wife, Saint Maria — has been celebrated around the world, hailed for his holiness, and revered as the embodiment of the hidden virtues honed by the everyman in his daily work. With his simplistic yet remarkedly holy nature, it’s no wonder that Saint Isidore has found an especially endearing place among the devout Catholic laity.

 
 
 
 
 
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History of Isidore the Farmer

Born to a poor family in Madrid in 1070, Saint Isidore the Farmer (not to be confused with another famous Isidore, Saint Isidore of Seville, who was a Spanish scholar, cleric and archbishop) spent his life tending to the farm of a wealthy landowner. As is the case with many of the early saints, fine details of Isidore’s earthly life have been lost to the obscurity of the centuries.

While there are few concrete facts, many stories testifying to the man’s holiness have been revered by generations. These include angels with oxen helping work his fields while he attended daily Mass, causing a fresh spring crop to rise from dry ground, and interceding for the resurrection of deceased children.

(Fun fact: His wife is formally known as Santa María de la Cabeza (“of the head”) in Spain and the relic of her head is venerated and carried in prayerful processions. Her intercession is said to bring rain in times of drought.)

Isidore was canonized on March 22, 1622 — which was his original feast day in the United States before the church’s liturgical calendar was reordered. This first date falls within the traditional Rogation days of the church, or days after the Easter season that were historically used to ask God for the needs of all people, particularly in terms of human labor and agriculture. Saint Isidore was, of course, one of the saints evoked during these days of prayer and devotion.

 
 
 
 
 
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Isidore around the world

Part of what has made Saint Isidore such an endearing figure through the church is his story that shows how great holiness can be found in the humble, mundane tasks of daily life. And it is one that transcends cultures, regions and time.

As you can imagine, his feast day is a big deal in Madrid. Each year, the city parades the image of “San Isidro” through the streets followed by a colorful festival.

Locals, pilgrims and tourists alike all flock to the Chapel of San Isidro, which originally belonged to the saint’s employer. There is a spring located nearby the chapel that is said to have flown miraculously thanks to Isidore. People will bless themselves with, bottle, and drink the water, with many miracles of healing being attributed to it as a direct result.

The day also includes music, dancing and lots of food. Some of the festival’s traditional foods include a variety of sweet mixed drinks, donuts and pastries.

Other companies of strong Spanish influence also celebrate the day publicly. The town of Cuz-Cuz, Chile, has a similar celebration with a procession and dancing. Lima, Peru, also holds its own San Isidro festival as well.

 
 
 
 
 
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Among the most colorful Saint Isidore celebrations happen in the Philippines, a country that leans heavily on its agricultural industries. Many types of events and festivals happen throughout the islands on and around May 15. One of these is the Pahiyas Festival, which is renowned for its incredible decorations and dizzying color palette. At the Pahiyas Festival, the harvest is celebrated showcasing the region’s finest fruits and vegetables. The celebration has roots back to the nation’s pre-Christian and pagan roots, but was adapted to honor Saint Isidore to thank God for another successful season.

And here in the United States? Saint Isidore still holds a special place in the heart of rural Catholic America. In fact, he is the official patron of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, established in 1923. Each year they encourage their members to join in a novena and litany to the saint for the needs for farmers and agriculture workers ending on his feast day.

A thread throughout many religions, the way that certain figures remain throughout the ages is nothing short of fascinating. Notably, it isn’t always the most heroic or jaw-dropping that leaves the biggest impression. Perhaps the inspiration behind Saint Isidore with connecting so many people is that he puts a face to a truth we already know: There is a special kind of beauty that comes with the ordinary when done with great devotion.

 

Jaclyn Krymowski is a recent graduate of The Ohio State University with a major in animal industries and minor in agriculture communications. She is an enthusiastic “agvocate,” professional freelance writer, and blogs at the-herdbook.com.

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