Isidore the Farmer vs. Phocas the Gardener

Happy Monday! We're back for another full week of saintly action and we kick things off with with the long-anticipated agricultural anarchy as Isidore the Farmer faces off against Phocas the Gardener. [insert comment about reaping what you sow]

In case you forgot about Friday's matchup, Michael the Archangel defeated Anna the Prophet 53% to 47% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen where he'll face Esther.

Finally, in the shout-out department, we're pleased to share an article titled St. Albans Participates in Lent Madness that appeared in the Eureka-Times Standard. Congrats to the Rev. Nancy Streufert and the folks at St. Alban's Church in Acarta, California! Lent Madness is HUGE in the Redwood forest.

Isidore the Farmer

St. IsidorIsidore was a prodigious farmer who credited the wealth of his harvests to angels who worked by his side. Born in Madrid, Spain, in about 1070, Isidore was a poor laborer for Juan de Vargas, a wealthy landowner. While Isidore spent his life working the land for others, he was always generous, sharing all he had with the poor.

Saintly lore tells us that Isidore is credited with more than 400 miracles. In addition to bringing an abundance of agricultural bounty for the de Vargas family, Isidore also is said to have brought de Vargas’s daughter back to life.

Another story tells of a beggar who arrived at Isidore’s home seeking food. Isidore’s wife, Maria, told the beggar that there was no more stew in the pot. As the beggar turned away, Isidore called out to his wife to check again. On further inspection, the pot of stew miraculously refilled. Legend also recalls that after Isidore and Maria’s only son fell into a well, Isidore prayed that the waters would rise and his son would be saved. The waters responded to his prayers, and Isidore’s son was rescued from drowning.

According to another legend, fellow farmhands complained that Isidore was always late for work because he went to worship first. The master investigated and found an angel plowing the field while Isidore was praying.

The story of Isidore the Farmer teaches us about the holiness of hard work and the value of labor. Through Isidore’s witness, we see that real abundance is not found through monetary wealth; dignity and holiness can be discovered in an ordinary life dedicated to God. Through our labors, we can also find a relationship with God as the toil of our hands takes care of our fellow humans.

According to legend, a flood nearly one hundred years after Isidore’s death uncovered his body, which was found to be in a state of incorruptibility, meaning it had not undergone normal decomposition. The church has viewed incorruptibility of the body as a sign of sainthood. Isidore the Farmer, the patron saint of farmers and laborers, is celebrated on May 15.

Collect for Isidore the Farmer
God of harrow and harvest: Look with favor upon us as we work wholeheartedly in our ministries that we, like our brother Isidore, might plow alongside unseen angels, find our dinner tables laden with enough to share, and joyfully work toward making your kingdom come on earth; we pray this in the name of the Great Sower of Seeds, Jesus Christ, your son. Amen.

-Anna Fitch Courie

Phocas the Gardener

While our spiritual imagination may draw us to Eden or Gethsemane when we think of gardens, it is quite possible that the small garden of Phocas best illustrates the call to self-sacrificing love given to disciples of Jesus.

Phocas’s garden was part of his first-century, modest, hermetic life outside the gates of Sinope, a town on the southern coast of the Black Sea. The garden was Phocas’s livelihood and his ministry. He lived by selling produce, while also using the garden’s abundance to feed the needy and hungry. At the heart of Phocas’s generosity was his Christian faith, which he sought to share with others just as fully as he shared food from his garden and resting places in his home.

During the Diocletian Persecution, Phocas’s acts of generosity drew scrutiny from the authorities. Soldiers were sent with orders to kill him. Arriving at Sinope, they found the city gates closed. Seeking lodging, they ultimately came to the hermit’s home, where they asked for his assistance in tracking down their target. Without revealing his name, Phocas did for the soldiers what he did for all guests: he received them, fed them from his garden, and gave them shelter in which to sleep in his home. He promised to lead them to the man they sought in the morning.

As they slept, Phocas dug a grave for his burial in the midst of the garden and made arrangements for the distribution of his goods to the poor. In the morning, Phocas revealed his identity and charged the soldiers to fulfill their duty. The soldiers, shocked by the act of hospitality shown by the one they were charged with killing, begged Phocas to recant his beliefs, allowing them to report a fruitless search. It was only when Phocas proclaimed that it was an honor to share in the sufferings of Jesus that the soldiers carried out their charge. Phocas was buried in the midst of his own garden, the place where he had provided unremitting hospitality to friend and enemy alike.

Collect for Phocas the Gardener
Almighty God, you emptied yourself to take on the form of a servant, and you call your disciples to do the same. Kindle in our hearts the same love you bestowed upon Phocas the Gardener, that, in giving of our abundance to serve friend and enemy alike, we may reflect to the world around us the abundant generosity you show to us in your Son Jesus Christ, Our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-David Sibley

Isidore the Farmer vs. Phocas the Gardener

  • Phocas the Gardener (60%, 4,313 Votes)
  • Isidore the Farmer (40%, 2,913 Votes)

Total Voters: 7,226

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Isidore the Farmer: By Wolfgang Sauber (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Phocas the Gardener: By Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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166 comments on “Isidore the Farmer vs. Phocas the Gardener”

  1. A bit early to declare a trend - I am picking Isidore to go two rounds!

  2. Tough choice as both leave us with shining examples of hospitality. However, Phocas brought new meaning to the words "love your enemy".

    1. I agree. I had a tough time choosing as well, but the part of his kindness towards those that would seek to do him harm was the swaying factor for me.

  3. Both seem nice, but Phocas reminds me of a friend who spends her summer caring for a huge garden that provides food for folks she knows who are on fixed incomes with the surplus going to a local charity. Rather than Community Supported Agriculture, she has Community Supporting Agriculture, like Phocas.

  4. I grew up across from a large farm and spent many of my spring and summers playing with friends around the farm and helping to care for the animals. I have always wished to have angels to do my work while I am praying (hasn't happened yet, but I am still praying about it) and I love beef stew. So, my choice this morning was easy. Isidore may not make it through this round, but he has my vote this morning.

  5. Ouch, tough choice. God's mercy and goodness has a unique form for each one. Both these saints brought Him glory. I picked Isadore, but as John says, it's early yet.

  6. Very difficult to choose between the two as their messages of sharing the abundance of the earth under all and any circumstances are so similar, so boo to having to choose. However, Isidore's story feels to be a collection of very ancient folk motifs about the 'cauldron of plenty', being assisted by otherworldly helpers etc, whereas Phocas seems instead so deeply human and to be a true example of walking in the ways of Christ in the world. I have voted for him. A brave and good man indeed.

    1. Perfectly expressed. I was drawn by Phocas's deep faith and refusal to recant. Phocas for me. I hope he not only wins but makes the Elate Eight.

    2. Those stories about Isidore, though, are almost certainly ways of recounting his very real generosity and hard work, and the way God was glorified in his life. So they're not just fairy tales, even if they're not literally historically accurate!

      I'm really deeply impressed by Phocas, but I'm also moved by the ordinariness of Isidore's story (once you get past the miracle stories). Since I grew up working-class and my family were farmers and laborers, Isidore has my vote!

  7. I believe that any farmer who protects the earth and feeds the hungry is a blessing. Phocas lived to love thy neighbor.

    1. Try again in a little bit. Probably the server was busy. No angel to look after it! If when you go to try it acts like you already voted, you're good.

      1. Ruth, I'm not sure about that as on a couple of occasions I have tried to vote and have been told I already have which has not been the case.

  8. Isidore's story seems to be mostly tall tale; I think Phocas seems more real and human, and as such, a better role model and exemplar.

  9. Oh, an easy-peasy Monday vote between a farmer and a gardener. Oh, insidious tricksters!
    However, I was taken by the phrase, "plowing alongside unseen angels," and chose Isidore. For some reason, the flowing scarf of Isadora Duncan figured in. Maybe I should go back to bed!

  10. I voted for Isidore. Just wonder if God really wanted Phocas to reveal his identity to the soldiers.

    1. I think you'll find your answer to that question in Jesus' words recorded in Matthew 10:33.

  11. I voted for Phocas because he faced death with the same fervor he had for life. True Christian message of loving all, even those who persecute you.

  12. Today we need more examples on how to serve both our friends and our enemies.

  13. Phocas exemplified Christ’s admonition to love your enemies. His bold act is a challenge to me to put my beliefs into actions.

    1. As a gardener myself, who loves all things of the earth, this was a bit tough, but I couldn't resist Phocas' kindness to his enemies. Wonderful soul!

  14. Interesting Day. Not only are we voting on two saints who were toilers of the soil, today in the Greek Orthodox world is the Feast for St. Conon the Gardener.

    1. Um, have we found a method to the madness of when to vote for whom in the first round?

    2. We should submit Conon the Gardener and Fiacre next year. Are there others?

  15. Phocas truly understood the meaning of Jesus' love and COMPOST! Had to go with him.

  16. This seems to be a case of you say to-ma(long a)-to and someone else says to-mah-to. Both seem to have legends about them that can't be verified, so which legend reigns supreme? Should be interesting to see the results.

  17. With my hands not steady this am, I made a mistake in the voting. They both, however are deserving saints.

  18. The picture of Isadore looks so much like a young family member who has also dedicated his life to farming, simple living, and improving the world around him, that I had to vote for Isadore. I am, however, an avid gardener, and will be satisfied whichever way this round works out!

  19. I had to go with Isadore. My great grandfather was named Isadore, and he, too, was a farmer.

  20. As a gardener, I leaned toward Phocas, but chose Isidore because I preferred his lifelong, steady toil to the choice to die.

  21. There is a St. Isidore the Farmer Catholic Church in Orange, VA- I'm voting for him!

  22. Phocas taught the soldiers two lessons, first the meaning of "love thine enemy" and second the Gospel demand of faithfulness unto death for Christ's sake. The second was hard for them to learn, though I like to imagine a prolongation of their lives to a point where at least one of them, pondering the death of their benefactor, took up his own cross and followed Christ. Nor should this surprise us, since many of us find that it is hard to be faithful unto death at all times. All that said, I love the mythological and legendary material in the story of Isidore; it reminds me that all language concerning God must in the end base itself in allegory, metaphor, and fable.

    1. I was expecting to vote for Poncas. I read about Isidore. Then Poncas. And it will be Poncas. And Brian will know to whom I refer when I say my vote honors Bonnie the Gardener!

  23. Phocas: I really need a patron saint for my upcoming attempt at urban gardening in a perfect little spot that came with my house. So far I don't have a clue how to begin, except at the library. The idea is to learn, have patience and share.

    1. Gardeners love to share their knowledge and their bounty. Chat with your new neighbours who will welcome you into your new community. A garden is a wonderful place for meditation and getting your hands dirty. My thoughts and prayers will be with you as I create a new garden too.

      1. Perfect! Thanks so much Pip from Canada ... from Catherine from Chicagoland.

    2. If you are in the U.S., when at the Library ask a reference librarian if they have any info on your local county extension service &/or master gardener program. Also ask if they know if any community gardens where you can hang out and glean knowledge from other local gardeners. And sometimes locally-owned plant nurseries offer classes too and those people are going to know what grows in you climate/soil.

      And always try to plant extra to share with those without access to garden space.

    3. You tube is so great for this. I am an organic nonGMO gardener. Check out MI Garden among the many great free tutorials. No matter what the subnect you can find someone teaching it on the web.

  24. I voted for Phocas, but hate stories that end that way. I loved Isidore's lifestyle and mindfulness of the angels all around, but they did play into an unjust society by getting him out of trouble. However....