June 2011

San Isidro: The Farmer Saint


Walter Sanchez.
Instituto de Investigaciones

Photo: Tania Suares
An altar to San Isidro.

The San Isidro Festival has strong roots among the peasants and farmers of the valleys and mountains of Cochabamba. The saint worship is so widespread that the main temples of Cercado, Tiquipaya, Vinto, Arani, Collpa-Ciaco have a sculpture of this saint and there is a celebration that lasts several days.

Who was San Isidro? Researchers who have written about the life of this saint affirm that he was born in Madrid in 1080 and he died in 1130. The saint was a pious farmer who performed miracles, many of which took place in Spain, including making the oxen plow the land without human help, or providing water in the years of drought.

The saint's miraculous spirit was so powerful that when King Felipe II  (1578-1621) was seriously ill, he asked that the body of San Isidro be taken to the Royal House, and the king miraculously recovered. It was this miracle that earned the shepherd his beatification, which  occurred on April 14, 1619.  Pope Gregory XV canonized him three years later on March 12, 1622. This event was celebrated not only in his hometown but also all around Spain and its colonies, introducing this date as an important day in the religious and political calendar.

Photo: Tania Suares
Oxen plough during a celebration of San Isidro’s Saint Day.


This great event led the Spanish crown to order this celebration in all of its overseas territories. In Cochabamba, the Registers of the Councils tell us about this imposition. The royal notification was made in November 1620 to commemorate the celebration of the San Isidro festival: "The mayor affirmed that in this council, he had heard news from the King, our Lord, who sent a papal bull of his Holiness with the beatification of San Isidro de Madrid, to celebrate and pray everywhere on May 15 each year; and all Spain must celebrate this festival by having parties in this town" (Digest, pp. 81). Thus, in many agricultural parish churches in the valleys of Cochabamba, native farmers were forced to form fraternities to celebrate and worship this saint.

Nobody knows about the historical implementation of San Isidro worship during the colonial period. Given the date of the celebration, on May 14 and 15, when the harvests are finished, this celebration may have been connected to thanksgiving rituals for the harvest, and rituals to get fertility for the next sowing season.

Nowadays, it is important to emphasize the close links between St. Isidro, the plowing animals, and the agricultural rituals associated with plowing. In fact, the main event, of the current San Isidro festival is linked to the ritual of plowing by several oxen called llank'ada (from the Quechua verb llank'ar = work). For this ritual, the animals are decorated with flags, colorful blankets, and other ornaments. It is possible that such events recreate the myth of the saint who made the oxen plow "on their own", without human intervention.

Ritual ploughing during celebrations of San Isidro.


In the agricultural town of Collpa-Ciaco, the San Isidro festival is also linked to the possibility of getting a good crop of corn. For this purpose, farmers start clearing the land after the patron saint procession, with a lot of embellished yokes. In Independencia, two images are venerated: one is a sculpture and the other is a painting, both dating from the early Republican period and belonging to private owners. After the rituals and masses, the peasants who came in large numbers, with their decorated oxen, attend mass, and then they perform the llank'ada, accompanied by the sounds of lichiwayu (musical instruments). In Colomi, a major center of potato and bean production, the San Isidro festival begins with the blessing of cattle (which in some cases exceed twenty), finishing in a communal plowing ritual.

The festival of this patron saint in Tiraque lasts three days. On the last day, the farmers take the patron saint in a procession through the fields, plowing with oxen decorated with colored flags and ribbons on their horns. In the city of Cochabamba, the patron saint day is a deeply rooted custom in the agricultural Jaihuayco neighborhood, where the first Spanish farmers lived at the beginning of the colony.

The widespread presence of San Isidro the farmer in the valleys of Cochabamba shows the strong impact of the colonial state and the church on local cultures. It also shows the recreation processes that “valluno peasants” (people from the valley) made from their own worldview, and the way that they mixed rituals and religious practices.

Instituto de Investigaciones AntropolĂłgias article
was translated thanks to the agreement between
Projects Abroad and the Departament of Lingüística Aplicada a la Enseñanza de Lenguas  - Faculty Advisor  Mgr. Mónica Ruiz
Translator :
Cintya VerĂłnica
Castro Cuella

Calendario JUNIO 2011

Ciclo de cine “Un mundo de promesas”
2 de mayo
“Los niños de Timpelbach” (director Nicolas Bary)
3 de mayo
“Rosetta” (directores Luc y Jean-Pierre Dardenne)
4 de mayo
“Entre los muros” (director Laurent Cantet)
SubtĂ­tulos en castellano

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