St. Isidore, nine centuries of example of sanctity in marriage and family life

St. Isidro Labrador, together with his wife, St. María de la Cabeza, are an example of Christian marriage, of hidden holiness developed in ordinary life. In the jubilee year of the patron saint of farmers, we review his figure and his example in today's world.

Maria José Atienza-October 13, 2022-Reading time: 7 minutes
saint isidore

"I like to see holiness in God's patient people: in the parents who so lovingly raise their children, in those men and women who work to bring home the bread." this quote from Gaudete et exsultate of Pope Francis can well be applied to St. Isidore Labrador and his wife, St. Mary of the Head. 

The figure of St. Isidore, whose canonization is 400 years old, emerges with strength and full relevance almost ten centuries later. 

Layman, husband and father of a family, hard worker..., the characteristics of this "saint next door." have been rediscovered, not only in Madrid, where his remains rest, but also in the many places in the world where devotion to Saint Isidore survives.

An almost millenary devotion

As Joaquín Martín Abad, doctor in theology, canon of the Almudena Cathedral and senior chaplain of the Royal Monastery of the Incarnation in Madrid, highlights for Omnes, "Devotion to St. Isidore began from the beginning by oral tradition. Forty years after his death is when the people of Madrid became collectively aware that Isidro, which is the name of Isidoro apocopado, had lived as a saint. And those forty years after his death, as narrated by the Codex of John the Deacon After a century and a half, it was the people of Madrid who carried out the exhumation from the cemetery and the transfer of his body, which was then discovered incorrupt, to the church of St. Andrew where he had been baptized".

A connoisseur of the figure of the patron saint of farmers, Martín Abad says that "The narration of the codex is detailed and tells that this translation was made 'without pastoral authority', spontaneously. Until the eleventh century, and even the twelfth, the elevatio corporisthe exhumation from the ground to elevate the body on an altar, and the exhumation from the ground to elevate the body on an altar. traslatio corporisIn this case, the transfer from the cemetery to the interior of a church, if carried out by the diocesan bishop with the license of the metropolitan archbishop and the provincial council, was equivalent to a local canonization. In this case, since it was done without ecclesiastical authority, this itself became a difficulty for him to be canonized soon by the Pope, since the canonization did not take place until five centuries later. Nevertheless, from the beginning of that transfer from the cemetery of St. Andrew to his church, the people and the clergy of Madrid already considered him a saint."

This primordial devotion spread quickly "The saint's life and miracles were even included in the books of saints. Since the beatification by Pope Paul V in 1619 and the canonization by Gregory XV in 1622, with the insistent efforts of the council of Madrid and the kings Philip II, III and IV, and the archbishopric of Toledo, the cult of the saint was spreading throughout the kingdom of Spain and all its kingdoms, in Europe, and especially in America and Asia, carried this devotion by the Spanish missionaries. Since then, many associations are under his patronage, and there are towns and dioceses with the same name of "San Isidro" in Argentina and Costa Rica. It was Pope St. John XXIII, who, in 1960 at the request of Cardinal Pla y Deniel, Archbishop of Toledo, declared St. Isidore patron saint of Spanish farmers"..

The codex of John the Deacon

One of the oldest documents that records the life of the saintly farmer can be found in the well-known Codex of John the Deacondated 1275. 

This codex, Jiménez Abad notes, "tells of the miracles that St. Isidore worked during his lifetime and, through his intercession, after his death. The five in life: that of the hungry pigeons giving them wheat that later multiplied; that of the oxen plowing with him; that of his donkey and the wolf that did not attack him; that of the pot that his wife said was empty and yet there was enough to give to the poor who asked; and that of the brotherhood, in which there was also multiplied food for all". 

Alongside this document, the Bull of Benedict XIII published in 1724, a century after the canonization, "He takes up these miracles and, on the other hand, ignores the hoaxes that existed about the saint, invented in the 16th century; and he fixed the date of his death 'around the year 1130'. As there is consensus on the year of his birth (c. 1082), St. Isidore would have died before his fiftieth birthday, and not at the age of ninety as those who associated St. Isidore with the shepherd who led Alfonso VIII and his troops in the battle of Navas de Tolosa wanted. And this age, of less than fifty years that he had at the time of his death, is now confirmed by the forensic medical study on the CAT scan. So the bull was and is right"..

The saint who looks at you

Martín Abad has been an honorary prelate of the Pope since 1998 and, in this year 2022, he has been promoter of justice in the tribunal delegated for the recognitio canonica and public exhibition of the incorrupt body of St. Isidore Labrador, an exhibition that took place last May on the occasion of the Jubilee celebration, which had not taken place since 1985, when the first centenary of the creation of the Diocese of Madrid was celebrated. 

As Martín Abad explains, "Cardinal Osoro, Archbishop of Madrid, appointed a tribunal for the process of exhumation, canonical recognition and display of the body of St. Isidore, composed of the Episcopal Delegate, the Promoter of Justice, a Notary, four forensic experts and two witnesses. This tribunal was present: at the first opening of the urn, last January 12; on February 26, when a CAT scan was performed, the results of which will be made public at the Faculty of Medicine of the Complutense University on November 28; also on April 25, and on May 21, when the body was exposed to the view of the faithful until May 29; during those days about one hundred thousand visitors came to venerate it.

As Promoter of Justice, when examining with the tribunal the incorrupt body of the saint, I was not only impressed by the state of preservation of the whole body, since his bones are covered with soft, fleshy and epidermal tissues, but, above all, that the eye sockets are not empty, since the eyeballs and the irises of each one of them are perfectly preserved, so that looking at him face to face it would even seem that he could have looked at you".

The state of conservation of the saint, in fact, has been an object of study and admiration for devotees and non-devotees since the first openings of the coffin.

In this regard, Joaquín Martín Abad also points out that ".In 1504, when Juan de Centenera verified the completeness of the body, he described it in a state of incorruption: 'in bone and flesh', and this is the first known written description. A real wonder"..

Saint in ordinary life

St. Isidore Labrador was canonized in 1622 along with St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, St. Philip Neri and St. Teresa of Jesus. He was the only layman in a group of distinguished religious.

Although holiness in ordinary life has been a constant in the Church since its origins, the call to rediscover the universal vocation to holiness lived today with the utmost naturalness, makes the figure of St. Isidore, layman, worker, father of a family, emerge as a fully current model.

Joaquín Martín Abad emphasizes this when he recalls that "San Isidro is a model of workers. There is an extended deformation of something that the codex tells. The saint worked, in the company of his wife, giving to God what belongs to God and to the neighbors the due fraternity, as it is painted in the funerary chest where his body was from the end of the XIII, or beginning of the XIV, until the XVIII century, a chest that can be seen in a chapel of the ambulatory of the Almudena Cathedral. 

When he was accused that, because he was praying, he was not working, his employer, when he went to reproach him, 'suddenly saw in the same field, by design of divine power, doing the work of tillage, two yoke of white oxen, plowing beside the servant of God, tilling the field quickly and resolutely'. And as later some artists painted in the same picture St. Isidore praying and the angels with the oxen plowing, that falsely gave rise to think that, while he was praying, others were working him. But it was not so. St. Isidore was first praying and then plowing. He fulfilled, then, the duties of God and the duties of his work.

The holiness of St. Isidore, a lay farmer in a tiny town like Madrid at that time, in a corner of the archbishopric of Toledo, is holiness in the ordinary, the heroism of virtues in everyday life. He was a good worker, a splendid husband and father of a family".

As the Archbishop of Madrid pointed out at the opening of the Holy Year of St. Isidore: "It is urgent to promote the value and dignity of the family, to defend dignified work, to care for the earth... St. Isidore was not a theorist of these realities, but he was a Christian witness of the importance that these have in the life of man, in his dignity as a child of God." 

A model of matrimonial sanctity that is also reflected in the iconography and the place where the remains of the holy couple are venerated. 

In the collegiate church of San Isidro "It is noteworthy that, in the middle of the altarpiece of the church, are integrated the sarcophagus with the incorrupt body of Saint Isidore and the urn with the relics of his wife, Saint Mary of the Head", Martín Abad points out. He adds, "The same look makes us understand that a marriage of saints is exemplary for all those who are united by this sacrament. And, by being together on the altarpiece, they show the fidelity that they maintained in life, because this fidelity has wanted to be perpetuated in this way, having the relics of both of them in view in the same place. True love in marriage is forever, because love that is not forever is not authentic. Besides, married love is a process in which there is always room for more"..

The Jubilee Year of San Isidro

On May 15, 2022, a Holy Mass presided over by the Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid, Monsignor Carlos Osoro, and celebrated in the collegiate church that houses the remains of the saint and his wife, opened the Holy Year of St. Isidore. 

Since then, many faithful and devotees of the saintly farmer are passing through the royal collegiate basilica of St. Isidore and have been able to climb to the chapel, where you can pray before the chest containing the incorrupt body of St. Isidore and the chest containing the relics of his wife, St. Mary of the Head.

By going on pilgrimage there you can receive the plenary indulgence by fulfilling the usual conditions established by the Church, and you can even obtain a document accrediting your pilgrimage. 

A time to promote the devotion to the family of the saintly farmer and to follow his example of holiness in the day to day life nine centuries later.

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