The Crusade of 1212 in Spain
In 1212, in response to Pope Innocent III's call of a new crusade, many knights and foot soldiers had begun to gather near the city of Toledo, Spain. There were men from Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, and, of course, Spain who were preparing to go to war. They had come in response to the call from the pope who hoped to push back the encroachment of the invaders who were aiming to control all of Spain and Portugal.
The foe was the Almohad who hailed from northern Africa and who already held the most of the lower half of the Iberian peninsula. They threatened the kingdoms of Spain as they were ever ready to expand their influence and territory as well as to spread the religion of Islam.
Early Success Followed by Desertion and No Way Forward
The king responded by taking one of his trusty supporters and beginning a prayer vigil. They took to his tent and began to beseech the Lord for his help in their hour of need. Despite their time in prayer, there seemed to be no reply from Heaven.
The Mysterious Visitor
Their conversation only lasted a minute or two. The king reappeared to his nobleman, and to the amazement of Romero, the king shared that he believed every word of the shepherd. Indeed, he saw that his words were the answer to their prayers not only for their immediate predicament, but an assurance that the battle would be won against the mighty Almohad. The king was almost joyful as he reported the news to Romero.
Victory in Battle
The Spanish forces would go on to win an impressive battle led by King Alfonso VIII as he avenged the loss which he suffered over a decade and a half earlier. Despite far lesser numbers, the king was able to inspire a victory that led to the rapid retreat of the enemy and the recovery of much territory that had been occupied by the Almohad.
The king knew that the shepherd had been the answer to his prayers. And he was not able to shake his belief that the man was no ordinary shepherd. The king had been struck by how the the man had not spoken like a simple shepherd. Instead, he had exuded confidence, strength, and resolve.
The Identity of the Mysterious Visitor is Revealed
Returning from the smashing victory of Las Navas de Tolosa, King Alfonso VIII stopped at the church of St. Andrew in Madrid to give thanks. Just before his visit, torrential rains had uncovered the body of St. Isidore the Farmer, and the body was found to be incorrupt. Of course, the king was curious to see this phenomena.
The king took one look at the body and immediately recognized the features of the shepherd who had come to speak with him. In thanks for his intervention, he commissioned a reliquary to be made to house the body. It was carved with images that depicted scenes from the life of the holy saint. It has come to be known as the Ark of St. Isidore, and it can be seen today at the church of St. Isidore the Farmer in Madrid.
* St. Isidore the Farmer lived from c. 1070 to 1130. He was married to St. Maria de la Cabeza (died c. 1175). They were farmers who were known for their humility and piety. They frequented the parish of St. Andrew in Madrid. St. Isidore was canonized in 1622, and he is the patron saint of Madrid. The story is told that one time when he was in prayer, the angels did his plowing for him in order that he could continue his prayers.
Image: St. Isidore the Farmer at prayer
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Learn More About Another Spanish Saint
The greatest king of Spanish history is a saint--St. Fernando III. The grandson of King Alphonso VIII, Fernando was born in 1192. He grew up to exemplify the ideals of a knight who was fully committed to serving God first. Crowned King of Castile and Leon, he ruled his people by administering justice and fiercely protecting them from their enemies. The saintly Fernando died a holy death in 1252. Over 750 years later, you can see his incorrupt body in the Cathedral of Seville.
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