On this day on which we celebrate the workers of America, it is good to recall a simple day laborer who became one of Spain’s most beloved saints. Also known as Saint Isidore the farmer, he was born around 1170 and lived his entire life in the vicinity of Madrid, in service as a farm laborer to the family of Juan de Vargas. Some of his fellow workers complained to Vargas that Saint Isidore was late for work due to his habit of attending Mass each day. Checking up on his worker, he found Saint Isidore praying while an angel was doing the plowing! Eventually Vargas made Saint Isidore bailiff of his entire estate. Tales of miracles surround Saint Isidore. One relates how he brought the daughter of his employer back to life. Another tells how he found water during a time of drought. He was noted for his charity to the poor and to animals.
He married Maria Torribia, who is also a saint and is known in Spain as Santa Maria de la Cabeza, this unusual title being bestowed upon her because her head is often carried in processions. They had one son who died in infancy. After this tragedy the parents dedicated themselves to a life of continence and service to God. She outlived her husband by many years after his death in 1130 and spent her days in prayer as a hermit and performed miracles.
Immediately after his death many miracles began to be attributed to Saint Idsidore. At the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa on July 16, 1212, a shepherd guided King Alfonso VIII through the Despenaperros Pass, the maneuver which led to a shattering Christian victory over the Almohad Army, the turning point in the Reconquista. Popular piety held that this shepherd was Saint Isidore the Laborer.
It is interesting that two of the greatest saints of Spain bear the same name. The learned Saint Isidore of Seville is a Doctor of the Church; in all probability Saint Isidore the Laborer lived and died an illiterate. God, however, uses both the wise and the simple for His purposes, and it is always good to remember that in His sight earthly distinctions are of no importance.