Get ready to celebrate around Spain, but especially in Madrid, the festivities of San Isidro.
What is it?
San Isidro is the day of Saint Isidore, the Saint that represents both the farmer and the Patron Saint of Madrid. While this holiday is celebrated all around Spain (there is quite a large population of farmers and other land worker around the country), it is most well known in Madrid where the population goes all out for its city’s Saint. The day itself is the 15th of May, however, the festivities usually start around the 10th.
Most of the festivities that are carried out during this time take you back to celebrations from the past—people dress up in traditional clothes, dance to traditional music, and eat treats that remind them of a simpler time. If you happen to be in Madrid this week, you will be able to see parades and dances, participate in picnics, and join in a plethora of other activities. We recommend checking out the this guide (in Spanish) for more information.
Saint Isidore was born in the late 1000s in Madrid as Isidro de Merlo y Quintana and was named after another Saint, Saint Isidore of Seville. He was born during a conflicting time in Spain, when the region where he was born still belonged to Al-Andalus. Soon after his birth, the area of Madrid became part of the Reconquista, or the reconquered land of the Catholics.
The parents of Isidro de la Merlo y Quintana were devout Catholics and he too lived his life caring for those around him. Working as a poor farmer (laborador in Spanish), he was known for sharing all that he had with those who were equally or more poor than he was. He married María de la Cabeza and it is said that their only child, San Illán, once fell down a well and, with his parents praying for his return, the waters of the well rose until they could reach him.
This, among many other stories, highlights the miracles that happened around San Isidro. In addition to being extremely devout to his faith, he also was a hard worker. He was beatified in Rome on May 2, 1619, by Pope Paul V and was canonized a few years later. Today he is celebrated as the Patron Saint of farmers, peasants, day laborers, and agriculture in general.
Main activities/how to join in:
While there are many activities throughout the week leading up to the 15th of May, the main event is the Pradera de San Isidro or a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Isidore, where all the participants drink from the spring there and then continue on to have a picnic at the Parque, or Park, of the Saint. During this time it is traditional for men and women to dress up in traditional madrileña clothing (chulapo and a chulapa respectively) and dance a chotis, a typical country dance that is related to the area.
During this picnic, you will also find people selling typical foods such as rosquillas or an aniseed flavored doughnut-like pastry (usually much drier than the type of doughnut you will be used to). These rosquillas can be found in different flavors including: las tontas, or ‘silly ones,’ without icing, las listas; or ‘clever ones,’ with a layer of lemon icing; las de Santa Clara, with a dusting of icing sugar; and las francesas, or those with almond. In addition, it is common to drink madrileña lemonade, or limonada, which is typically made with wine, lemon, sugar, and chopped fruit (such as apple).