St. Isidore of Seville

In Seville, Spain, St. Isidore, bishop, confessor, and Doctor of the Church, known for his sanctity and his teaching of doctrine. He enlightened the people of Spain by his zeal for the Catholic faith and his promotion of church discipline – Roman Martyrology for April 4.

Isidore of Seville (560-636) authored an extensive number of works of theology and general knowledge that profoundly influenced the thought and culture of medieval Europe. With his brother Leander, who preceded him as bishop of Seville, he brought about the conversion of Spain's Visigothic ruling class from Arianism to Catholic observance. Isidore also effected important liturgical and administrative reforms in the Spanish church, clarified doctrine, and persuaded the Council of Toledo that every diocese should have a cathedral school or seminary.1

In portraits Isidore is traditionally pictured as at right, with a mitre, crozier, cope, and book – the latter in reference to his writings. He will often be paired with his brother Leander, as in the second picture at right. A number of portraits picture him at work writing the works on which his fame largely rests (example). In one late image he holds a volume of his revised liturgies while heretics and their books lie vanquished at his feet. Some images pair him with his brother Leander.

A curious legend had it that when Isidore was a boy his father saw him from afar amid a swarm of bees attracted by honey pouring from his mouth. It seemed to the father that Isidore himself had taken the form of a beehive. On this basis he predicted that the boy would become a great teacher of doctrine.2 Bees and beehives thus are associated with the saint. An image on Wikimedia Commons labeled "Symbol of Isidore of Seville" without further explanation combines a beehive, crozier, and pen. Both Wikipedia and CatholicCulture.org say his symbols include bees or a "bishop holding a pen while surrounded by a swarm of bees." So far, I have not encountered such an image in my travels or on the internet.

In later centuries Isidore was believed to have continued his promotion of the Spanish church by appearing in visions at key moments to encourage key figures, including Ferdinand III, whom he urged to pursue the reconquest of Seville from the Moors (example). A vita of St. Martin of León has Isidore appearing to Martin and setting him on the course of study that led to his authorship of commentaries on scripture (image).3

Prepared in 2018 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University.

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A 1741 statue of St. Isidore in Seville's cathedral. (See the description page.)


Leander and Isidore as Bishops of Seville. (See the description page.)


A 17th century statue in Seville's Divine Savior Collegiate Church. (See the description page.)

DATES

  • Feast day: April 4
  • Lived 560-636
  • Not canonized until 1598
  • Declared a "Doctor of the Church" in 1722

HAGIOGRAPHY

NOTES

1 Butler, II, 26-27.

2 Acta Sanctorum, April vol. 1, 331.

3 Ibid., 330.