Isidore of Seville

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Isidore of Seville
Isidor von Sevilla.jpeg
St. Isidore of Seville (1655), depicted by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Bishop, Confessor, and Church Father
Bornc. 560
Cartagena, Spania
Died4 April 636 (aged 79–80)
Seville, Visigothic Kingdom
Venerated in
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Feast 4 April
Attributes Bees; bishop holding a pen while surrounded by a swarm of bees; bishop standing near a beehive; old bishop with a prince at his feet; pen; priest or bishop with pen and book; with Saint Leander, Saint Fulgentius, and Saint Florentina; with his Etymologiae
Patronage Students, the Internet, computer users, computer technicians, programmers (all electronic patronages are unofficial)
Philosophy career
Notable work
Era Medieval philosophy
Main interests
Grammar, rhetoric, mathematics, medicine, law, languages, cities, animals and birds, the physical world, geography
Notable ideas
Isidoran map

Isidore of Seville ( /ˈɪzɪdɔːr/ ; Latin : Isidorus Hispalensis; c. 560  4 April 636) was a Spanish scholar and cleric. For over three decades, he was Archbishop of Seville. He is widely regarded, in the words of 19th-century historian Montalembert, as "the last scholar of the ancient world". [2]


At a time of disintegration of classical culture, [3] aristocratic violence and widespread illiteracy, Isidore was involved in the conversion of the Arian Visigothic kings to Catholicism, both assisting his brother Leander of Seville and continuing after his brother's death. He was influential in the inner circle of Sisebut, Visigothic king of Hispania. Like Leander, he played a prominent role in the Councils of Toledo and Seville. The Visigothic legislation that resulted from these councils influenced the beginnings of representative government.[ citation needed ]

His fame after his death was based on his Etymologiae , an etymological encyclopedia that assembled extracts of many books from classical antiquity that would have otherwise been lost. He also invented the period (full stop), comma, and colon. [4]


Childhood and education

Isidore was born in Cartagena, Spain, a former Carthaginian colony, to Severianus and Theodora. Both Severianus and Theodora belonged to notable Hispano-Roman families of high social rank. [5] His parents were members of an influential family who were instrumental in the political-religious manoeuvring that converted the Visigothic kings from Arianism to Catholicism. The Catholic Church celebrates him and all his siblings as known saints:

Isidore received his elementary education in the Cathedral school of Seville. In this institution, the first of its kind in Iberia, a body of learned men including Archbishop Leander of Seville taught the trivium and quadrivium, the classic liberal arts. Isidore applied himself to study diligently enough that he quickly mastered classical Latin, [7] and acquired some Greek and Hebrew.

Two centuries of Gothic control of Iberia incrementally suppressed the ancient institutions, classical learning, and manners of the Roman Empire. The associated culture entered a period of long-term decline. The ruling Visigoths nevertheless showed some respect for the outward trappings of Roman culture. Arianism meanwhile took deep root among the Visigoths as the form of Christianity that they received.

Scholars may debate whether Isidore ever personally embraced monastic life or affiliated with any religious order, but he undoubtedly esteemed the monks highly.

Bishop of Seville

A statue of Isidore of Seville by Jose Alcoverro, 1892, outside the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana, in Madrid Isidoro de Sevilla (Jose Alcoverro) 01.jpg
A statue of Isidore of Seville by José Alcoverro, 1892, outside the Biblioteca Nacional de España, in Madrid
Seville Cathedral. Sculpture by Lorenzo Mercadante de Bretana San Isidoro, Portada del Bautismo de la Catedral de Sevilla.jpg
Seville Cathedral. Sculpture by Lorenzo Mercadante de Bretaña

After the death of Leander of Seville on 13 March 600 or 601, Isidore succeeded to the See of Seville. On his elevation to the episcopate, he immediately constituted himself as the protector of monks.

Recognizing that the spiritual and material welfare of the people of his See depended on the assimilation of remnant Roman and ruling barbarian cultures, Isidore attempted to weld the peoples and subcultures of the Visigothic kingdom into a united nation. He used all available religious resources toward this end and succeeded. Isidore practically eradicated the heresy of Arianism and completely stifled the new heresy of Acephali at its outset. Archbishop Isidore strengthened religious discipline throughout his See.

Archbishop Isidore also used resources of education to counteract increasingly influential Gothic barbarism throughout his episcopal jurisdiction. His quickening spirit animated the educational movement centered on Seville. Isidore introduced his countrymen to Aristotle long before the Arabs studied Greek philosophy extensively.

In 619, Isidore of Seville pronounced anathema against any ecclesiastic who in any way should molest the monasteries.

Second Synod of Seville (November 619)

Isidore presided over the Second Council of Seville, begun on 13 November 619 in the reign of King Sisebut, a provincial council attended by eight other bishops, all from the ecclesiastical province of Baetica in southern Spain. The Acts of the Council fully set forth the nature of Christ, countering the conceptions of Gregory, a Syrian representing the heretical Acephali.

Third Synod of Seville (624)

Based on a few surviving canons found in the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals, Isidore is known to have presided over an additional provincial council around 624.

The council dealt with a conflict over the See of Écija and wrongfully stripped bishop Martianus of his see, a situation that was rectified by the Fourth Council of Toledo. It also addressed a concern over Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity,.

The records of the council, unlike the First and Second Councils of Seville, were not preserved in the Hispana, a collection of canons and decretals likely edited by Isidore himself. [8]

Fourth National Council of Toledo

All bishops of Hispania attended the Fourth National Council of Toledo, begun on 5 December 633. The aged Archbishop Isidore presided over its deliberations and originated most enactments of the council.

Through Isidore's influence, this Council of Toledo promulgated a decree commanding all bishops to establish seminaries in their cathedral cities along the lines of the cathedral school at Seville, which had educated Isidore decades earlier. The decree prescribed the study of Greek, Hebrew, and the liberal arts and encouraged interest in law and medicine. [9] The authority of the council made this education policy obligatory upon all bishops of the Kingdom of the Visigoths. The council granted remarkable position and deference to the king of the Visigoths. The independent Church bound itself in allegiance to the acknowledged king; it said nothing of allegiance to the Bishop of Rome.


Isidore of Seville died on 4 April 636 after serving more than 32 years as archbishop of Seville.


Isidore's Latin style in the Etymologiae and elsewhere, though simple and lucid, reveals increasing local Visigothic traditions.


A page of Etymologiae, Carolingian manuscript (8th century), Brussels, Royal Library of Belgium Isidoro di siviglia, etimologie, fine VIII secolo MSII 4856 Bruxelles, Bibliotheque Royale Albert I, 20x31,50, pagina in scrittura onciale carolina.jpg
A page of Etymologiae, Carolingian manuscript (8th century), Brussels, Royal Library of Belgium
Isidori Hispalensis Opera Omnia (1797) Isidori Hispalensis Opera Omnia.tif
Isidori Hispalensis Opera Omnia (1797)

Isidore was the first Christian writer to try to compile a summa of universal knowledge, in his most important work, the Etymologiae (taking its title from the method he uncritically used in the transcription of his era's knowledge). It is also known by classicists as the Origines (the standard abbreviation being Orig.). This encyclopedia—the first such Christian epitome—formed a huge compilation of 448 chapters in 20 volumes. [10]

In it, Isidore entered his own terse digest of Roman handbooks, miscellanies and compendia, he continued the trend towards abridgements and summaries that had characterised Roman learning in Late Antiquity. In the process, many fragments of classical learning are preserved that otherwise would have been hopelessly lost; "in fact, in the majority of his works, including the Origines, he contributes little more than the mortar which connects excerpts from other authors, as if he was aware of his deficiencies and had more confidence in the stilus maiorum than his own," his translator Katherine Nell MacFarlane remarks. [10]

Some of these fragments were lost in the first place because Isidore's work was so highly regarded—Braulio called it quaecunque fere sciri debentur, "practically everything that it is necessary to know" [11] —that it superseded the use of many individual works of the classics themselves, which were not recopied and have therefore been lost: "all secular knowledge that was of use to the Christian scholar had been winnowed out and contained in one handy volume; the scholar need search no further". [12]

The fame of this work imparted a new impetus to encyclopedic writing, which bore abundant fruit in the subsequent centuries of the Middle Ages. It was the most popular compendium in medieval libraries. It was printed in at least ten editions between 1470 and 1530, showing Isidore's continued popularity in the Renaissance. Until the 12th century brought translations from Arabic sources, Isidore transmitted what western Europeans remembered of the works of Aristotle and other Greeks, although he understood only a limited amount of Greek. [13] The Etymologiae was much copied, particularly into medieval bestiaries. [14] [15] [16]

On the Catholic faith against the Jews

The medieval T-O map represents the inhabited world as described by Isidore in his Etymologiae. Diagrammatic T-O world map - 12th century.jpg
The medieval T-O map represents the inhabited world as described by Isidore in his Etymologiae .

Isidore's De fide catholica contra Iudaeos furthers Augustine of Hippo's ideas on the Jewish presence in Christian society. Like Augustine, Isidore accepted the necessity of the Jewish presence because of their expected role in the anticipated Second Coming of Christ. In De fide catholica contra Iudaeos, Isidore exceeds the anti-rabbinic polemics of earlier theologians by criticizing Jewish practice as deliberately disingenuous. [17]

He contributed two decisions to the Fourth Council of Toledo: Canon 60 calling for the forced removal of children from parents practising Crypto-Judaism and their education by Christians, and Canon 65 forbidding Jews and Christians of Jewish origin from holding public office. [18]

Other works

Isidore's authored more than a dozen major works on various topics including mathematics, holy scripture, and monastic life, [19] all in Latin:


Isidore (right) and Braulio (left) in an Ottonian illuminated manuscript from the 2nd half of the 10th century Meister des Codex 167 001.jpg
Isidore (right) and Braulio (left) in an Ottonian illuminated manuscript from the 2nd half of the 10th century

Isidore was one of the last of the ancient Christian philosophers and was contemporary with Maximus the Confessor. He has been called the most learned man of his age by some scholars, [21] [22] and he exercised a far-reaching and immeasurable influence on the educational life of the Middle Ages. His contemporary and friend, Braulio of Zaragoza, regarded him as a man raised up by God to save the Iberian peoples from the tidal wave of barbarism that threatened to inundate the ancient civilization of Hispania. [23]

The Eighth Council of Toledo (653) recorded its admiration of his character in these glowing terms: "The extraordinary doctor, the latest ornament of the Catholic Church, the most learned man of the latter ages, always to be named with reverence, Isidore". This tribute was endorsed by the Fifteenth Council of Toledo, held in 688, and later in 1598 by Pope Clement VIII.[ citation needed ] Isidore was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1722 by Pope Innocent XIII.

Isidore was interred in Seville. His tomb represented an important place of veneration for the Mozarabs during the centuries after the Arab conquest of Visigothic Hispania. In the middle of the 11th century, with the division of Al Andalus into taifas and the strengthening of the Christian holdings in the Iberian peninsula, Ferdinand I of León and Castile found himself in a position to extract tribute from the fractured Arab states. In addition to money, Abbad II al-Mu'tadid, the Abbadid ruler of Seville (1042–1069), agreed to turn over St. Isidore's remains to Ferdinand I. [24] A Catholic poet described al-Mutatid placing a brocaded cover over Isidore's sarcophagus, and remarked, "Now you are leaving here, revered Isidore. You know well how much your fame was mine!" Ferdinand had Isidore's remains reinterred in the then-recently constructed Basilica of San Isidoro in León.[ citation needed ] Today, many of his bones are buried in the cathedral of Murcia, Spain.


In Dante's Paradiso (X.130), Isidore is mentioned among theologians and Doctors of the Church alongside the Scot Richard of St. Victor and the Englishman Bede the Venerable.

The University of Dayton has named their implementation of the Sakai Project in honour of Saint Isidore. [25]

His likeness, along with that of Leander of Sevile and Ferdinand III of Castile, is depicted on the crest badge of Sevilla FC.

The Order of St. Isidore of Seville is a chivalric order formed on 1 January 2000. An international organisation, the order aims to honour Saint Isidore as patron saint of the Internet, alongside promoting Christian chivalry online. [26] [27]


St. Isidore Island in Antarctica is named after the saint.

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Etymologiae</i> Etymological encyclopedia compiled by Isidore of Seville

Etymologiae, also known as the Origines ("Origins") and usually abbreviated Orig., is an etymological encyclopedia compiled by Isidore of Seville (c. 560–636) towards the end of his life. Isidore was encouraged to write the book by his friend Braulio, Bishop of Saragossa. The Etymologies summarized and organized a wealth of knowledge from hundreds of classical sources; three of its books are derived largely from Pliny the Elder's Natural History. Isidore acknowledges Pliny, but not his other principal sources, namely Cassiodorus, Servius and Solinus. The work contains whatever Isidore, an influential Christian bishop, thought worth keeping. Its subject matter is extremely diverse, ranging from grammar and rhetoric to the earth and the cosmos, buildings, metals, war, ships, humans, animals, medicine, law, religions and the hierarchies of angels and saints.

Reccared I Visigothic King

Reccared I was Visigothic King of Hispania and Septimania. His reign marked a climactic shift in history, with the king's renunciation of Arianism in favour of Catholicism in 587.

Mozarabic Rite

The Mozarabic Rite, officially called the Hispano-Mozarabic Rite, and in the past also called the Visigothic Rite or the Hispanic Rite, is a liturgical rite of the Latin Church once used generally in the Iberian Peninsula (Hispania), in what is now Spain and Portugal. While the liturgy is often called 'Mozarabic' after the Christian communities that lived under Muslim rulers in Al-Andalus that preserved its use, the rite itself developed before and during the Visigothic period. After experiencing a period of decline during the Reconquista, when it was superseded by the Roman Rite in the Christian states of Iberia as part of a wider programme of liturgical standardization within the Catholic Church, efforts were taken in the 16th century to revive the rite and ensure its continued presence in the city of Toledo, where it is still celebrated today. It is also celebrated on a more widespread basis throughout Spain and, by special dispensation, in other countries, though only on special occasions.

Leander of Seville Bishop of Seville

Saint Leander of Seville was the Bishop of Seville. He was instrumental in effecting the conversion of the Visigothic kings Hermengild and Reccared to Catholicism. His brother was the encyclopedist St. Isidore of Seville.


Saint Hermenegild or Ermengild, was the son of king Liuvigild of the Visigothic Kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula and southern France. He fell out with his father in 579, then revolted the following year. During his rebellion, he converted from Arianism to Chalcedonian Christianity. Hermenegild was defeated in 584 and exiled. His death was later celebrated as a martyrdom due to the influence of Pope Gregory I's Dialogues, in which he portrayed Hermenegild as a "Catholic martyr rebelling against the tyranny of an Arian father."

Third Council of Toledo 589 synod in which Visigothic Spain entered the Catholic Church

The Third Council of Toledo (589) marks the entry of Visigothic Spain into the Catholic Church, and known for codifying the filioque clause into Western Christianity. The council also enacted restrictions on Jews, and the conversion of the country to Catholic Christianity led to repeated conflict with the Jews.


Theudis, was king of the Visigoths in Hispania from 531 to 548.

Witteric King of the Visigoths

Witteric was the Visigoth King of Hispania, Septimania and Galicia. He ruled from 603 to 610.


Erwig was a king of the Visigoths in Hispania (680–687).

Liuvigild King of the Visigoths

Liuvigild, Leuvigild, Leovigild, or Leovigildo, was a Visigothic King of Hispania and Septimania from 568 to April 21, 586. Known for his Codex Revisus or Code of Leovigild, a law allowing equal rights between the Visigothic and Hispano-Roman population, his kingdom covered modern Portugal and most of modern Spain down to Toledo. Liuvigild ranks among the greatest Visigothic kings of the Arian period.

Sisebut King of the Visigoths 612–621

Sisebut was King of the Visigoths and ruler of Hispania and Septimania from 612 until his death.

Julian of Toledo

Julian of Toledo (642–690) was born in Toledo, Hispania,. He was well educated at the cathedral school, was a monk and later abbot at Agali, a spiritual student of Saint Eugene II, and archbishop of Toledo. He was the first bishop to have primacy over the entire Iberian Peninsula—a position he has been accused of securing by being complicit in 680 in the supposed poisoning of Wamba, king of the Visigoths—and he helped centralize the Iberian Church in Toledo. His elevation to the position of primate of the Visigothic church was a source of great unhappiness among the kingdom's clergy. And his views regarding the doctrine of the Trinity proved distressing to the Vatican.

Braulio of Zaragoza

Braulio or Braulius was bishop of Zaragoza and a learned cleric living in the Kingdom of the Visigoths.

Ildefonsus Scholar and theologian and metropolitan Bishop of Toledo, Spain

Saint Ildefonsus or Ildephonsus was a scholar and theologian who served as the metropolitan Bishop of Toledo for the last decade of his life. His Gothic name was Hildefuns. In the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church he is known as Saint Dexius based on the Ge'ez translation of the legends about his life.


Spania was a province of the Byzantine Empire from 552 until 624 in the south of the Iberian Peninsula and the Balearic Islands. It was established by the Emperor Justinian I in an effort to restore the western provinces of the Empire.

Maximus was the first Visigothic bishop of Zaragoza (Hispania) in 592–619. He was also a theologian and historian.

Visigothic Kingdom Post-Roman kingdom in Iberia

The Visigothic Kingdom or the Kingdom of the Visigoths was a kingdom that occupied what is now southwestern France and the Iberian Peninsula from the 5th to the 8th centuries. One of the Germanic successor states to the Western Roman Empire, it was originally created by the settlement of the Visigoths under King Wallia in the province of Gallia Aquitania in southwest Gaul by the Roman government and then extended by conquest over all of Hispania. The Kingdom maintained independence from the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, whose attempts to re-establish Roman authority in Hispania were only partially successful and short-lived.

Claudius was a Hispano-Roman Catholic dux (duke) of Lusitania in the late sixth century. He was one of the most successful generals of Reccared I.

Fulgentius of Cartagena

Saint Fulgentius of Cartagena, born in Cartagena in the 6th century and died in 630, was Bishop of Ecija (Astigi), in Hispania.


Suintila, or Suinthila, Swinthila, Svinthila; was Visigothic King of Hispania, Septimania and Galicia from 621 to 631. He was a son of Reccared I and his wife Bado, and a brother of the general Geila. Under Suintila there was an unprecedented peace and unity across the Kingdom of the Visigoths. As a direct result, by 624 the king was able to muster the forces necessary to retake those lands that had been under the control of the Eastern Roman Empire.


  1. Russell, R. P. "Augustinianism". New Catholic Encyclopedia . Retrieved 4 April 2021 via
  2. Montalembert, Charles F. Les Moines d'Occident depuis Saint Benoît jusqu'à Saint Bernard[The Monks of the West from Saint Benoit to Saint Bernard]. Paris: J. Lecoffre, 1860.
  3. Jacques Fontaine, Isidore de Séville et la culture classique dans l'Espagne wisigothique (Paris) 1959
  4. Hazrat, Florence (3 September 2020). "A History of Punctuation". Aeon . Retrieved 4 April 2021.
  5. Priscilla Throop, Isidore of Seville's Etymologies: Complete English Translation. Vermont: MedievalMS, 2005, p. xi.
  6. Roger Collins, Early Medieval Spain. New York: St Martin's Press, 1995, pp. 79–86.
  7. "His literary style, though lucid, is pedestrian": Katherine Nell MacFarlane's observation, in "Isidore of Seville on the Pagan Gods (Origines VIII. 11)", Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, 70.3 (1980):1–40, p. 4, reflects mainstream secular opinion.
  8. Rachel Stocking, "Martianus, Aventius and Isidore: provincial councils in seventh-century Spain" Early Medieval Europe 6 (1997) 169–188.
  9. Isidore's own work regarding medicine is examined by Sharpe, William D. (1964). "Isidore of Seville: The Medical Writings". Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. 54 (2).
  10. 1 2 MacFarlane 1980:4; MacFarlane translates Etymologiae viii.
  11. Braulio, Elogium of Isidore appended to Isidore's De viris illustribus , heavily indebted itself to Jerome.
  12. MacFarlane 1980:4.
  13. "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Isidore of Seville". Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  14. Verner, Lisa (2005). The Epistemology of the Monstrous in the Middle Ages. Routledge. pp. 94–95. ISBN   978-0-415-97243-7.
  15. Green, Roland, ed. (2012). The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (4th ed.). Princeton University Press. ISBN   9780691154916.
  16. Barber, Richard W. (1992). Bestiary : Being an English Version of the Bodleian Library, Oxford M.S. Bodley 764: With All the Original Miniatures Reproduced in Facsimile. Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: Boydell & Brewer. pp. 8, 13.
  17. Cohen, Jeremy (1999). Living Letters of the Law. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 97. ISBN   978-0-520-21870-3.
  18. Bar-Shava Albert (1990). "Isidore of Seville: His attitude towards Judaism and his impact on early Medieval Canonical law". The Jewish Quarterly Review. XXX 3, 4 (3/4): 207–220. JSTOR   1454969.
  19. Christopher Lowney (4 December 2012). A Vanished World: Medieval Spain's Golden Age of Enlightenment. Simon and Schuster. p. 17. ISBN   978-0-7432-8261-1.
  20. "e-codices – Virtuelle Handschriftenbibliothek der Schweiz". Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  21. Isidore of Seville; Translator: Thomas L. Knoebel; Raúl Gómez-Ruiz (2008). "Introduction". In Dennis D. McManus (ed.). Isidore of Seville: De Ecclesiasticis Officiis. Paulist Press. p. 11. ISBN   978-0-8091-0581-6.
  22. Bradford Lee Eden (2 August 2004). "Isidore of Seville". In Christopher Kleinhenz; John W. Barker; Gail Geiger; Richard Lansing (eds.). Medieval Italy: An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. p. 2012. ISBN   978-1-135-94879-5.
  23. Jorge Mario Cabrera Valverde (2004). Estampas de la Antigüedad Clásica. Editorial Universidad de Costa Rica. p. 124. ISBN   978-9977-67-803-0. Un discípulo suyo, San Braulio de Zaragoza, escribe sobre él: ""Después de tantas ruinas y desastres, Dios le ha suscitado en estos últimos tiempos para restaurar los monumentos de los antiguos, a fin de que no cayésemos por completo en la barbarie." English: A disciple of his, San Braulio de Zaragoza, writes about him: After so much destruction and so many disasters, God has raised him in recent times to restore the monuments of the ancients, so that we would not fall completely into barbarism.
  24. Father Alban Butler. "Saint Isidore, Bishop of Seville". Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. 2 April 2013. Web. 9 August 2014. Saints SQPN
  25. "Isidore - Redirecting to /portal". Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  26. Tom Chatfield (2 August 2016). Netymology: From Apps to Zombies: A Linguistic Celebration of the Digital World. Quercus. p. 171. ISBN   978-1-62365-165-7.
  27. Jack Lynch (23 February 2016). You Could Look It Up: The Reference Shelf From Ancient Babylon to Wikipedia. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 82. ISBN   978-0-8027-7794-2.


Primary sources

Chronica minora, 1482 Isidorus - Chronica minora, alli anni domini MCCCCLXXXII Addi cinque di octobro - 512701.jpg
Chronica minora, 1482

Secondary sources

Other material