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Issue Date:  November 9, 2007

Patron saints for farmers

Farm workers have their choice when it comes to invoking patron saints.

The one most Catholics would probably recognize is St. Isidore (1070-1130), patron of farmers, peasants, day laborers and rural communities, and the patron of the United States National Rural Life Conference (not the same person as St. Isidore of Seville, a seventh-century bishop and patron of the Internet).

Isidore worked all his life as a farm laborer on an estate owned by a wealthy landowner outside Madrid. A simple man, Isidore prayed as he plowed the fields and was sometimes late because he went to morning Mass -- but according to legend, angels helped him to make up his share of the work and even overtake the other farm workers in productivity. Isidore and his wife, Maria, were known for their love for the poor.

After her husband’s death, Maria lived on until about 1175 as a hermit, visionary and miracle worker. Her relics are carried in processions and pilgrimages around Torrelaguna, Spain, where her head, preserved in a reliquary, is said to have often brought down rain from heaven for the parched countryside. Santa Maria de la Cabeza (head) shares a feast day with her husband on May 15 and also has her own on Sept. 9.

And then there’s St. Amelia (c. 741-772) -- also known as Amalberga -- the patron saint of farmers, fishermen and people suffering from arm and shoulder pain. Amelia was a nun at the women’s Benedictine abbey of Münster-Bilzen, Belgium. She founded a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the Belgian town of Temsche, where she introduced farming techniques to the townspeople while trying to convert them to Christianity. According to legend, she crossed the river Schelde (southwest of Antwerp) on the back of a giant fish in order to get to the pagan town.

Amelia’s beauty and virtue is said to have caught the eye of Charlemagne, who supposedly broke her arm in a struggle before he stopped pursuing her. The legend about the Charlemagne-Amelia connection inspired a historical romance novel, The King’s Nun (January 2007), in which author Catherine Monroe imagines the bright Amelia reading texts about agriculture in the Münster-Bilzen abbey library and later teaching the people of Temsche how to apply fertilizer to their crops.

Amelia shares her feast day, July 10, with another Amelia. The church records three saints by this name, though scant information is known about any of them.

-- Erin Ryan

See more about Isidore and Maria at, web site of the Church of St. Isidore in Stow, Mass. More about St. Amelia on, web site of St. Amelia’s Parish in Tonawanda, N.Y.

National Catholic Reporter, November 9, 2007

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