Feast of Saint Isidore in Madrid Date in the current year: May 15, 2024

Feast of Saint Isidore in Madrid The feast of Saint Isidore (Las Fiestas de San Isidro Labrador) is celebrated in Madrid on May 15. The festivities honoring the city’s patron saint and his wife, Maria Torribia, usually last for about a week and include pilgrimages, processions, festivals, and other attractions.

Saint Isidore the Laborer, also known as Isidore the Farmer and Isidore the Farm Laborer, is the patron saint of farmers and day laborers, as well as of Madrid and a number of other localities. He was born in Madrid circa 1070. His poor, but very devout parents named him after Saint Isidore of Seville. All his life Isidore worked for Juan de Vargas, a wealthy local landowner, who eventually made Isidore bailiff of his entire estate.

Isidore was very devout and took any chance to help the poor, even sharing his meals with them. Before going to work in the morning, he would attend a Mass in one of the local churches. His fellow workers once even complained to their master that Isidore was always late for work. Upon investigating the complaint, de Vargas found out that an angel was working at the farm while Isidore was praying, and so he didn’t punish the devout laborer.

Saint Isidore is believed to have been married to Maria Torribia (the Spanish often refer to her as Santa Maria de la Cabeza even though she was never canonized). They had a son who once fell into a deep well. Isidoro and Maria prayed for his life, and the water in the well rose miraculously to the level of the ground, with the child floating safely on the surface. According to another legend, Isidore caused a fountain of fresh water to burst from the dry earth to quench his master’s thirst. Because of this, the saint is widely associated with water.

The feast of Saint Isidore has been celebrated since the 16th century. It was declared an official holiday in Madrid in 1947. Every year, Madrid honors its patron saint with a week-long celebration with a packed program of events featuring a colorful procession, in which the statues of St. Isidore and his wife are paraded through the streets, water blessing in the spring at the Ermita de San Isidro (in honor of all the water-related miracles the saint is associated with), and various festivities at the Pradera of San Isidro. People dance, enjoy good music and traditional treats, such as rosquillas, and have lots of fun in each other’s company.

On the occasion of the holiday, many city residents dress up as chulapos and take to the streets to dance the chotis, a traditional folk dance that resembles the polka. The term chulapo (or chulapa when referring to a woman) originated in the 19th century. It referred to working- and lower-middle-class residents of the Maravillas and Malasaña neighborhoods, who were known for their cocky, confident attitude and distinct style of clothing.

Chulapos wore black pants, a shirt, a waistcoat with a carnation on the lapel, and a cap, while chulapas wore a dress with puffed sleeves and a long skirt fitted above the knees, a headscarf adorned with carnations, and a frilled mantilla. This elaborate style of dress was designed to reflect their sense of pride for their neighborhood. Today, however, the term “chulapo” and the costume are associated with all residents of Madrid, regardless of the neighborhood they were born and raised in.

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