San Isidro, one of the most important people in the history of Madrid, is the patron saint of Madrid and his life has spread in popular culture as a way of praising his simple life and direct contact with nature. The celebrations of San Isidro have been taking place since the 17th century and it has become one of the most important festivals in the city. In this ShMadrid article, we dig deeper into the life of San Isidro and its parties in the Madrid.
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Life & Sainthood of San Isidro
San Isidro was born in Madrid in the year 1082 when the city still belonged to the Taifa of Toledo in Muslim Spain, known as the Al-Andalus, during the era of reconquest. It is believed that Isidro, a Mozarabic farmer, was at the service of the Vargas family and other feudal lords at the time. It is also believed that San Isidro lived in Extremadura, a militarily unstable zone, because it was close to the border between the Christian and Muslim kingdoms, being forced to move with his family to the Madrid town of Torrelaguna due to military deployment from the Emir Ali Ibn Yusuf in the year 1110. It was here he met his wife, María Toribia, and soon after had a son. He died in 1172 at the age of 90, and it is said that there were five miracles worked by San Isidro, these being described in an ark found next to his mummified, incorruptible body in the sixteenth century.
San Isidro was beatified by Pope Paul V on June 14, 1619, and canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622. Among the miracles that are attributed to San Isidro, as described in the Codex of the Legend of San Isidro, are the salvation of a donkey that was to be devoured by a hungry wolf, the multiplication of wheat offered to hungry pigeons, the order of oxen to work the fields alone while he prayed, and mediation to obtain much-needed rains in the spring period. Although his best-known miracle, while not described in this Codex, is the miracle of the well. It is said that his son fell into a well and that San Isidro, through prayer, caused the waters of the well to rise allowing him to rescue his son. Currently, the well is located in the San Isidro Museum in Madrid.
Festivities of San Isidro Labrador
San Isidro was also credited with the power to find water easily, so the celebrations are directly related to this gift. The celebrations start with a procession to a spring attached to the Hermitage of San Isidro, drinking the “holy water.” The festivities take place during the second week of May, where popular regional dances are held in the Plaza Mayor, plus neighborhood festivals, bullfights, religious events, and sporting events among other things. There are concerts of traditional zarzuela music, tours of the giants and big heads around the city, pregones, lights and sounds shows, and large popular dances such as the chotis.
Also during the holidays, it is a tradition for men and women to wear the clothes symbolic of the working classes of the late nineteenth century, which are called chulapos and chulapas. In 2018, the San Isidro festivities will begin on May 11 and last for four days until Tuesday, May 15 – his feast day that marks the day of his death.
Don’t miss the Fiestas de San Isidro, patron saint of Madrid, one of the most traditional and historical popular festivals in the country!