The San Isidro Labrador Parish Church along Philand Drive, in the Tandang Sora district of Quezon City, doesn’t strike visitors as anything significant when it comes to religious architecture and art. However, what strikes me it how they parish relates to its faithful the virtues of its patron saint, Saint Isidore the Laborer (1070-1130) or San Isidro, the patron saint of farmers and workers.
San Isidro was a Spanish farmhand, whose devotion to prayer lead to many miracles in his life. It is believed that despite his tardiness due to Isidro’s daily attendance of the morning mass, Isidro work was always done ahead of time. This caused his master to investigate, and he would witness several times as angels would work the fields while San Isidro was deep in prayer. There are other miracles attributed to the saint, including his harvest growing again after Isidro gave most away to needy animals and people. All these miracles are enshrined on the stained glass panels on the parish doors, of the San Isidro Labrador Parish Church.
To be faithful and charitable even in the lowest of social strata will bring heavenly rewards is a theme that colonial Spanish missionaries used to convert the natives, and thus making San Isidro as one of the more popular patron saints throughout the Philippines. This is most evident during the Maytime harvests festivals dedicated to San Isidro and held throughout the country, such as the Apit Festival of Allacapan in the province of Cagayan; the Kangga Festival is of Mogpog in the province of Marinduque; the Bariw Festival of Nabas in the island of Aklan; and the colorful Pahiyás Festival of Lucban, the Agawan Festival of Sariaya, the Mayohan Festival of Tayabas, and the Sabugan ng Biyaya Festival of Agdangan in province of Quezon. And there are also the festivals names after San Isidro, which are celebrated in the towns of Lupao, San Isidro, and Talavera in the province of Nueva Ecija; the town of Pulilan in the province of Bulacan; the town of Lezo in the island of Aklan; the town of Poro in the island of Cebu; the towns of Tubigon and San Isidro in the island of Bohol, the city of Cadiz in the province of Negros Occidenta; the towns of Hinunangan and Silago in the island of Southern Leyte; and the cities of San Fernando, Bacolor, and Macabebe in the province of Pampanga.
The San Isidro Labrador Parish Church is part of the area called Pasong Tamo, which was once an agricultural community, hence the choice of San Isidro as the patron saint. However, devotion to San Isidro cannot be complete without the inclusion of his wife, Blessed Maria Torribia (died 1175) or Santa María de la Cabeza (Saint Mary of the Head). Santa Maria is also a patron saint of farmers, and she is often depicted with their son, Illan. At the Baroque styled retablo (altarpiece) of the San Isidro Labrador Parish Church, the images of San Isidro and Santa Maria are placed on either side of the image of the Crucified Christ.
The San Isidro Labrador Parish Church is just a simple modernist building, with a few Baroque accents that reflect the aesthetics of the ordinary Filipino. This contrast of the sleek and the gaudy also mirrors the Filipino as a culturally mixed people; combining elements of the traditional native, Chinese, Spanish and American colonial, and modernism in one big pot.
This multiplicity of culture also lends to the Filipino’s nature for dual or multi-functioned objects and places. This is manifest with the Baptistery, at the northeast aisle of the church. Marked by a beautiful stained glass window of “Saint John baptizing Jesus at the river Jordan” and the piscina in the center, the area also doubles as the Devotion Hall of the Saints. In this side altar, the images of the Filipino saints San Lorenzo Ruiz (1600-1637) and San Pedro Calungsod (1654–1672), Santa María de la Cabeza, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and the Immaculate Conception.
In the past couple of decades, Quezon City has shed all its vestiges of its agricultural communities, and thus losing much of the essence of devotion to San Isidro. It is up to the San Isidro Labrador Parish Church to revitalize this patronage through other events that would become more meaningful to the community, and find a renewed ritual of harvest, within ourselves.