Legends of Saints and Birds – Saint Isidore

In the twelfth century there lived in Spain a peasant called Isidore. He spent his days ploughing his master’s fields, watching his master’s crops, having no thought but that of doing his duty faithfully. But the Church, following the example of our Blessed Lord, her Founder, who chose to be born in lowly state, has ever liked to show honour to those simple souls who, having no riches nor possessions, no rank nor title, yet are called to be Saints. So it is that Isidore the peasant was chosen to be patron of a royal city the capital of Spain. And as each fifteenth of May comes round, in Madrid they hold a festival, keeping the Feast Day of the peasant Saint. Now, Isidore was but a day labourer, going forth to his work until the evening, work which he did well and diligently. Yet slanderous tongues sought to make mischief by saying that Isidore came late to his work, never telling how he worked longer and more diligently than his fellows.

Therefore his master inquired of him wherefore he came not early to work as did his fellow labourers.

“Sir,” said Isidore, “truly I am at my work later than some of the others; but I do my best to make up for the few minutes spent in prayer. If my work seemeth unfavourable to thee, or thou thinkest I have defrauded thee in any matter, I pray thee say so, for gladly will I repay thee from my private store.”

Then, knowing that Isidore worked well, that he rose early to go into Madrid to hear Mass, which might make him later at his work, his master said naught. But one day he rose early and went into the fields to watch Isidore. He saw Isidore trudging to church so soon as the dawn appeared, and marked his return. He was later than his fellows, wherefore his master was angry and went to tell him so. Isidore was ploughing, his little son running at the heads of the oxen; but in the same field, ploughing another furrow, was a second plough. The master stood amazed: this plough was drawn by snow-white oxen, while for ploughman was a radiant angel. Up and down went this heavenly plough, cutting clean furrows. But as the master approached the vision faded from his sight.

“Isidore,” he called, “who ploughs the field with thee?”

“No one, sir,” said Isidore, amazed; “I work alone, and know of none save God to whom I look for strength.”

Therefore the master said no more, but returned home pondering the matter deeply.

Isidore was a kind-hearted man; he loved the patient oxen who pulled his plough, and the ass who carried the corn to be ground at the mill. Holy beasts, he called them, for was not our Lord born in a stable, the home of the oxen and asses? and did not an ass bear Him on that Palm Sunday? And oft-times looking upon the Cross which the ass has on its back, “Happy beast,” he would say, “on whom God has traced the symbol of Redemption, for, because one of thy kind bore thy Saviour, all of thee are blessed.”

It is told how one day Isidore and his little son were going to the mill. They had the ass with them, carrying a sack of corn, gleanings from the fields which Isidore’s wife had made. It was winter time; snow covered the ground and sparkled on the tree boughs, and it was difficult for beast and bird to find food. As they went along the birds hovered near, as though they knew that in that sack was a store of food. Presently some pigeons came flying, vainly searching for food.

So Isidore told the boy to stop the ass, and making a hole in the sack he took out some handfuls of wheat for the hungry birds.

“They need it as much as we do,” said he; then he and the boy went on their journey, leaving the feathered folk eating happily. At the age of forty Isidore died: he was buried in the cemetery of Saint Andre. All who knew him loved him greatly, for he was a true and faithful servant of God, who had laboured earnestly to serve his heavenly Master.

– taken from Legends of Saints and Birds by Agnes Aubrey Hilton