Saint Isidore, The Laborer

San Isidro, Labrador

Feast day: May 15

Patron Saint of farmers, Zacatecas, Mexico, and Madrid, Spain.

Invoked for good weather and harvest.

The National Rural Conference in the United States (as per 1947).

Essay by Dr. Elizabeth Zarur

Saint Isidore was a Spanish saint from Castile who lived in the eleventh century. As a young man he worked for a wealthy landowner, John de Vargas, and remained his employee for the rest of his life. He was named after the famous bishop and doctor of the Church Isidro of Seville (ca. 560-636). The saint, Saint Isidore, married the devout María de la Cabeza, who is honored as a saint in Spain and was canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622. The image of the head of María de la Cabeza is taken in processions during times of drought. Therefore, both Saints Isidore and his wife María de la Cabeza are known as patrons of agriculture and invoked in times of drought. They lived a life of perfection and were known for their generosity. Saint Isidore, the Laborer died on May 15, 1130.

Isidore is often represented wearing the typical Castilian laborer cloth (jacketed with knee-high pants). He is portrait standing in a landscape with a church in the background depicting the moment a miracle took place. Isidore’s fellow workers complained to the farmers of him being late every morning for work because he attended to a daily morning mass. At that moment, a team of oxen being driven by an angel appeared working along the land. Isidore’s main attributes are the angel, church, water stream, oxen, and, sometimes, a broad-brimmed hat, a bag, a gourd for water, birds and clouds against a rural landscape sky. The stream of water represents one of his miracles when groundwater appeared after Isidore struck the earth with his staff to satisfy his master’s thirst. The birds flying in the sky attests the saint’s love for animals, and the miracle of having a full sack of corn after feeding many birds. The mourning skies with clouds on the upper corner alludes to the saint’s intercession for rain.

The Art Gallery Collection has several stylistically diverse representations of the saint. Figure 1 shows a detailed depiction of the saint against an elaborate landscape with all the attributes framed by an ornate frame paneled with reversed-class paintings on the sides and lower section of the retablo. The crowning of the frame is missing. The other two retablos here included for a comparative analysis (figs. 2, 3), show stylistic differences and one of them misses the inclusion of all attributes associate with the saint. Figure 2 displays the image of the kneeling Isidore in front of a church against a simple landscape with a small ox plowing the fields in the foreground. However, Figure 3 includes all the attributes in a less detailed representation.

Figure 1. Saint Isidore, the Laborer / San Isidro, Labrador

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin with glass and metal frame. 10 x 7”.

NMSU Art Gallery Collection # 1965.2.31.

Donor: Mr. Fran E. Tolland.

Figure 2. Saint Isidore, the Laborer / San Isidro, Labrador

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. NMSU Art Gallery Collection # 1968.4.35.

Figure 3. Saint Isidore, the Laborer / San Isidro, Labrador

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. NMSU Art Gallery Collection # 1969.1.87.


Butler, Alban. Lives of the Saints: Complete Edition. 4 volumes. New York, NY: Kenedy, 1956.

Chorpening, Joseph F. Mexican Devotional Retablos from the Peters Collection at Saint Joseph’s University. Philadephia, PA: Saint Joseph University Press, 1994.

Roig, Juan Ferrando. Iconografía de los Santos. University of Michigan: Edicioned Omega, 1950.

Tavares, Jorge Campos. Dicionário de Santos. Porto: Lello & Irmão, Editores, 1990.

Zarur, Elizabeth Netto Calil and Charles Muir Lovell, eds. Art and Faith in Mexico: The Nineteenth-Century Retablo Tradition. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.