8 may 2012

San Isidro, the patron saint of Madrid

We who have the good fortune of living here in Madrid are blessed, only two weeks after the puente of May 1st and 2nd, with yet another public holiday which will this year fall on a Thursday. We give thanks this time to the Fiesta de San Isidro on May 15th, in the middle of the glorious spring time in Madrid.

So who is San Isidro?

Known widely as a good and devoted man, Isidro – or “Isidore the Labourer” – was born into a very poor family of peasant farmers (campesinos) in the outskirts of Madrid. According to legend, our devout peasant friend became the talk of the town through performing various miracles, such as when his son fell down a well, and thanks to Isidro's prayers, the water level of the well raised which saved his life. Not stopping there, he continued his miracle career when one day, after praying in various churches, two angels appeared next to him and helped him plough the land.
Procession, tribute to San Isidro, Madrid
If that’s not enough, forty years after his death, and despite being buried in a poorly made wooden coffin, it was discovered that his body was in a perfect state, lacking any signs of decomposition. Thanks to his miracles (milagros), San Isidro was canonized in 1622 along with his wife Santa María de la Cabeza.

How is San Isidro celebrated?

Rosquillas españolas
Even though the day of San Isidro is May 15th, the festivities run from the 14th until the 18th of this month. During this time Madrid is enchanted with a cultural atmosphere where you can enjoy music concerts and traditional and cultural activities. The fun officially starts on the 14th at 6:30pm in the Plaza de la Villa (calle Mayor), finishing with a Spanish operetta concert at Plaza Mayor.
Here you can see the full programme of the whole San Isidro festival, so you’ll have no excuse for missing that session of chotis (traditional madrileño dance) or seeing the spectacular callejeros (street stalls).
Festivities and celebrations for this day also take place at la Pradera de San Isidro in the Carabanchel district (southern Madrid), on the banks of the River Manzanares. In honour of their patron saint, the local madrileños proceed to San Isidro's chapel, followed by a full procession bearing the image of San Isidro and involving typical Venetian dancing and orchestras.
Chulapos and chulapas en la pradera de San Isidro, Madrid
Since the 16th century it has been a tradition to sit on the grassy meadow and have a picnic with food and snacks like Spanish omelette, empanadas or cocido madrileño (local stew) accompanied by water from the well, and wine. Various stalls in the area sell other foods like rosquillas (a Spanish type of doughnut), torrados (toasted chickpeas), garrapiñadas (caramel-coated peanuts or almonds), caramelized apples and pickles, with wine, clara con limón (beer with lemon) and lemonade on offer to drink.
Chotis, A Madrid typical dance
 The typical thing to do in the day is to dance the chotis, a traditional dance of Madrid, and for men and women to dress in chulapos and chulapas (a traditional Spanish outfit). For men, the suit consists of a small jacket, usually with no sleeves, dark trousers and tights, a square black hat, boots, and a neck scarf. Women wear a head scarf, with a red or black carnation flower, white blouse, skirt and tights or a full-length dress. For those who want to take part but don’t want to be seen in these traditional outfits, it is quite acceptable for women to simply wear a red carnation, and men a sleeveless sweater – both are symbolic of the day.
Since San Isidro was the patron saint of the working people, he is honoured in many other towns in Spain with processions in which they give thanks to, and bless the land. Also, to feel closer to the history, visit the Casa de Madrid. Now a museum, it was where the saint’s master lived, Juan de Vargas, and now contains many artifacts from San Isidro’s life.
La pradera San Isidro. 
Francisco de Goya has painted various works representing the festival, showcasing its popularity at the end of the 18th Century, seen below.
Not only do we have this in Madrid, but right through until early June we enjoy the Feria de San Isidro, one of the most important events on the global bullfighting calendar. Here you can see the full programme of the corridas.
If you’ve never experienced this festival before, we highly recommend sticking a carnation in your hair or throwing a sweater on and heading down to the Pradera de San Isidro, before hitting Plaza Mayor. Let the Madrid spirit get under your skin; you’ll learn a lot about the wonderful culture of this great city, and understand what it means to be castizo.

La pradera San Isidro. (Museo del Prado-Madrid-España)

La pradera San Isidro. (Museo del Prado-Madrid-España)

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