Two Saint Isidore churches many miles apart beautifully illustrate the commonalities of worship. At first glance, the village of Agua Fria near Santa Fe, NM and rural Orange County, VA seem to have little in common. Yet, as I travel, I appreciate more and more the universality of faith in community with others.
Both churches honor Saint Isidore the Farmer (San Ysidro in Spanish), the patron saint of farmers, laborers, and rural communities. During my travels, I often volunteer with manual labor in return for a place to park. Consequently, this humble Saint holds a special place in my heart.
As the story goes, Saint Isidore and his wife Blessed Maria de la Cabeza served a wealthy Madrid landowner as farm laborers. Because Isidore devoutly prayed and attended Mass daily, he often was late. Nonetheless, he always finished his work. Therefore, others came to believe that an angel helped him by plowing the fields for him.
Moreover, his wife joined him in works of charity and prayer. The couple often shared food with the poor. After his death, Maria lived as a hermit. She prayed for others, many of whom experienced miraculous healings.
Thus, Saint Isidore reminds us that worship multiplies our time, not detracts from it. Work becomes more effective when done for God. Like other saints before and after him, Saint Isidore attests to the holiness of all work and how intentional devotion transforms work into prayer.
San Ysidro Catholic Church
I first encountered Saint Isidore when passing through the rural village of Agua Fria, NM on my way to visit Saint Joseph’s stairway. Along the side of the narrow road, a stucco church with a wrought metal gate and cross caught my eye. An historic marker further piqued my interest.
Inside, rustic wooden brackets and and beams pleasingly contrast with white plaster walls. Charming stylized figures of Saint Isidro, Saint Joseph and others grace the high altar.
Later, I learned more of the history of this historic San Ysidro Church. A wealthy landowner, Don Jose Jacinto Gallegos, built the church in 1835 to solve the logistical difficulties attending Mass at what is now the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi in downtown Santa Fe. Because most farmers found the arduous trip by horse and wagon too long, they needed a better way to get to Sunday Mass.
Local legend has it that Don Jose threw his hat into the wind and vowed to build a church wherever it landed. Then, various families from the local community crafted and donated the corbels, or wooden brackets that support the roof beams. Women of the parish hand plastered the interior of the church. Thus, the building itself embodies the spirit, faith and labor of its rural community.
Saint Isidore the Farmer
Next, months later, I found another church dedicated to Saint Isidore many miles away. While sampling the wares of farms and vineyards in Virginia via Harvest Hosts, I wandered through Orange County. Just outside of Gordonsville, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, perched on a hill overlooking the countryside, Saint Isidore the Farmer Catholic Church perches on a hill overlooking the countryside.
Established in 2001, the parish combines two pre-existing smaller parishes: Saint Mark in Gordonsville from the late 1800s and Saint John in Orange built in 1940. Saint John’s contributed the statues of Mary and Joseph, while Saint Mark’s provided the tabernacle and stations of the cross. Finally, the many farmers and gardeners in the rural community inspired the naming of the new church.
Within the brick and glass church, warm light peach walls set off modern rounded wooden pews. Ample light flows in through many windows providing views of the surrounding fields. Near the entrance, a beautiful copy of sixteenth century engravings depict the lives of Saint Isidore and Blessed Maria de la Cabeza.
Behind the sanctuary, beautifully composed modern stained glass windows depict an angel plowing the field behind Saint Isidore and Blessed Maria. In almost an art deco style, fanciful plants and flowers adorn the windows on each side of the main scene. Subscribers to my e-newsletter may access a coloring page based on the main window.
Outside, a unique Rosary walk beckons the visitor to pray with her whole body. Here, you traverse a series of circular paving stones that form the beads of a giant Rosary, a scripture based meditative prayer. Larger stepping stones mark the path to a statue of Mary holding the infant Jesus blessing the visitor with a cross. Appropriately, the path takes you through the Mysteries of their lives as referenced in the Gospels. Near the parking lot, a marble Pieta surrounded by a small garden encourages more outdoor reflection.
What Binds Us Together
Just as the green rolling Virginia countryside starkly contrasts with the desert and mountains of New Mexico, the architecture and art of the two Saint Isidore churches differ greatly. Yet, what remains the same is the centrality of Jesus and the sacrifice and celebration of Mass. These rural churches share as well the devotion and friendliness of parishioners who take pride in their beautiful churches wrought with local labor. Whatever your faith or worship home, may we be united in love of God and see Him in all places, even miles and centuries apart.
Visit San Ysidro Catholic Church at 3552 Agua Fria Street, Santa Fe, NM 87507 in the outskirts of Santa Fe, NM. For more information, go to the church’s website . You’ll find Saint Isidore the Farmer Catholic Church at 14414 Saint Isidore Way, Orange, VA 22960, close to many historic sites including President James Madison’s Montpelier estate.