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Statue of Saint Isidore of Seville.

St. Isidore of Seville: Patron Saint of …. The Internet?!

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The Catholic tradition of assigning the patronage of saints to certain places, careers, or activities is usually obvious. For example, St. Luke was a physician and he’s one of the patrons of doctors. Andrew the Apostle was a fisherman, and surprise, surprise, he’s a patron for others who followed in his trade. There’s even an apparent link between St. Joseph of Copertino and his patronage of astronauts and pilots – stories say this saint could levitate. But what about Isidore of Seville, a saint who lived between the 6th and 7th century, can you guess how he gained patronage over the internet?

St. Isidore of Seville is a saint venerated in the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. This saint served as the Archbishop of Seville for more than 30 years. St. Isidore of Seville was notable for being a scholar and is commonly regarded to be the last of the Latin Fathers.

‘Saint Isidor of Sevilla’ (1655) by Batolomé Esteban Murillo.

‘Saint Isidor of Sevilla’ (1655) by Batolomé Esteban Murillo. (Public Domain)

A Saintly Family

A biography of the life of St. Isidore of Seville is found in the Acta Sanctorum, which was supposedly written during the 13th century by Lucas Tudensis. However, this piece of work is said to be mostly made up of myths, thus it cannot be entirely trusted. In any case, it states that Saint Isidore was born in Cartagena Spain around the year 560. His family is said to have been orthodox Catholics, probably of Roman descent, and they seemed to have wielded a degree of power and influence. His parents were Severianus and Theodora and his siblings held important posts in the Church.

His elder brother, St. Leander, was Isidore’s immediate predecessor as Archbishop of Seville, whilst his younger brother, St. Fulgentius, served as the Bishop of Astigi. Isidore also had a sister, St. Florentina, who was an abbess, and said to have had forty convents and up to a thousand religious under her rule.

St. Florentina.

St. Florentina. (Public Domain)

As Isidore’s parents died when he was still a young boy, he was left in the care of his older brother. Isidore received his early education at the cathedral school in Seville, which is said to be the first of its kind in Spain. Here, Isidore was taught the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy) by a group of learned scholars, which included his brother, the Archbishop.

According to one story, Leander was quite harsh when it came to Isidore’s education, and he would employ force and punishment when the young boy did not meet his expectations. Eventually, Isidore was so frustrated by his inability to gain knowledge as quickly as his brother wanted, and by the severe treatment he received for this failure, that he decided to run away.

‘Leander of Seville’ (1655) by Batolomé Esteban Murillo.

‘Leander of Seville’ (1655) by Batolomé Esteban Murillo. (Public Domain)

One day, Isidore noticed water dripping onto a rock near the place where he sat. He realized that whilst the individual droplets had no effect on the rock, over time, the repeated dripping was able to wear holes into it. To Isidore, this signified that instead of giving up he should continue his studies - his efforts may be like the drops of water, they would eventually result in more advanced learning. Nonetheless, when he finally returned home, Leander had Isidore locked up in a cell to complete his studies because he feared that the boy would run away again.

Saint Isidore’s Etymologiae and Patronage

In spite of all that had happened, Isidore did not hold a grudge against his brother, as evidenced by the fact that the two men later worked side by side as scholars. Furthermore, after Leander’s death, Isidore completed many of the projects that his brother had started.

In addition to these efforts, Isidore also distinguished himself as a scholar through his own writings. His most important work is the 20 volume Etymologiae, which is an attempt by Isidore to compile a summa of universal knowledge. Incidentally, the word ‘etymology’ is said to have been coined by the saint himself. The significance of this encyclopedia can be seen in the fact that it was used for nearly a millennium after it was produced.

T and O style mappa mundi (map of the known world) from the first printed version of Isidorus' ‘Etymologiae’.

T and O style mappa mundi (map of the known world) from the first printed version of Isidorus' ‘Etymologiae’. (Public Domain)

In 1598, St. Isidore was canonized, i.e. formally recognized as a saint, and in 1722, he was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church. Finally, in 1997, Pope John Paul II decided that a patron saint may be useful for Catholics who needed someone to intercede on their behalf when it came to the proper use of the internet. As St. Isidore was the compiler of the important Etymologiae, he was henceforth known as the patron saint of the internet, which, in a way, functions in the same way as the scholarly saint’s encyclopedia.

‘Church Fathers’ (1076), a miniature from Svyatoslav's Miscellany.

‘Church Fathers’ (1076), a miniature from Svyatoslav's Miscellany. (Public Domain)

Top image: Statue of Saint Isidore of Seville. Source: Luis Garcia/CC BY SA 2.5

By Wu Mingren


Catholic Online, 2017. St. Isidore of Seville. [Online]
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Govan, F., 2011. Profile: Saint Isidore - the Patron Saint of the Internet. [Online]
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Kelly, B., 2010. Patron Saint for the Internet, Isidore of Seville. [Online]
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New World Encyclopedia, 2014. Isidore of Seville. [Online]
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O'Connor, J., 1910. St. Isidore of Seville. [Online]
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Snachtman, N., 2002. Searchin' for the Surfer's Saint. [Online]
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Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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