Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 23, 2007
An angel plowed a farm worker's field
Spanish labourer shared grain with hungry birds and the seeds were miraculously replaced
St. Isidore the Farmer – May 15
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
The processional banner of San Ysidro with an angel and oxen hangs in San Ysidro Church.
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Agua Fria, New Mexico
Many of the Church's great saints justly merit the designation of holy person, be they martyrs for the faith, great preachers, founders of religious orders, monasteries or towns, or those select few who were blessed with apparitions of Christ or the Holy Mother.
Humble married layman
San Ysidro Labrador was none of these but rather a humble, married layman who during his life presented nothing but charity and prayerfulness to his fellows. In fact, it took the influence of King Philip III who insisted that this Spanish farmhand who had died in 1130, should be declared a saint. He was, and has since been adopted as the patron of farmers, ranchers and crops.
Holy Ysidro is remembered in the name of a parish church on the outskirts of Santa Fe, a simple, small adobe structure that suits the image of its humble patron.
Angel driving oxen
The holy man spent his entire life as a hired hand for a single landholder outside of Madrid. Stories are told of how the conscientious worker, after complaints from his employer that he spent too much time in prayer, was found to be assisted at times with his work by an angel driving a team of snow-white oxen. It is also said the grain he shared with winter-hungry birds was miraculously replaced.
This humble servant of God was canonized in 1622 with three other eminent Spaniards, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius and Francis Xavier, a recognition that a simple holy life can be recognized even among the great saints of heaven.
Once a village in its own right but now a suburb of the city of Santa Fe, Agua Fria (Cold Water) grew up on the banks of the Santa Fe River about 10 km southwest of the city centre. It was an agricultural area, characterized by long, narrow river lots that gave each farmer riverfront access. The settlement once hosted two mills that processed sugar cane and provided a novel play area for children after attending Sunday Mass at adjacent San Ysidro.
The 1835 church faces west just off Agua Fria Street, the town's main thoroughfare which follows the south bank of the river into the city to end at Guadalupe Street at historic Santuario de Guadalupe.
A squat, four-sided peaked bell tower matches the out-of-character (for a mission-style adobe church) saddle roof. Ancient headstones provide mementos of generations of area parishioners surround the little sanctuary.
A practical place
The interior of San Ysidro presents a conventional, box-like space with a flat ceiling supported by heavy, wooden vigas or roof beams.
To reduce heat from outside, only four windows break the flat expanse of off-white walls which are adorned with large tin-framed Stations of the Cross.
Focal point is the altar, backed by a compound simple retablo within a three-sided apse behind a low, adobe ceiling arch. Panels portray popular southwestern saints surrounding the central crucified Christ.
Few statues adorn the church interior - a couple of Our Lady and one of a relatively well-dressed St. Isidore with hat, traditional staff and sheaves of grain, holding a rose.
More interesting and of cultural interest is a processional banner that displays a simpler San Ysidro, hatless but haloed, holding a curved staff and accompanied by diminutive oxen and an angel guiding his plow.
Today, his church is part of the combined San Isidro and San Jose Parish. It's an active one, particularly at Christmas when parishioners sponsor a full slate of nine Las Posadas (The Inns) centred on area residences, and is also noted for producing traditional Christmas plays (Los Pastores). Masses here are celebrated in both Spanish and English.