Bag of bones
In the church of San Isidro lie the embalmed remains of Madrid’s most famous patron saint, Isidro the Labourer. This varnished bag of bones lying on a bed of white satin, his modesty covered by a flag embroidered with the city’s heraldry, is not doing too badly considering it’s getting on for 1,000 years since he kicked the bucket.
Kept in a coffin with nine locks that only the King holds the key to, he hasn’t had a public airing since 1985. Probably all for the best as he’s been knocked about a bit over the years. Charles II had one of his teeth extracted so he could place it under his pillow and benefit from the saint’s good juju, and it’s even rumoured that a lady in the court of Isabella I of Castille bit off his toe, presumably hoping to obtain some of his magical powers for herself.
So why all the fuss? Well the miracles wrought by Isidro during his long lifetime were pretty impressive, apparently, he got angels to plough the fields for him, brought forth springs out of parched earth, and conjured food out of thin air. So, he’s definitely a character you’d want to align yourself with in a fix and in my own small way, I’m linked to the saint himself as Isidro also happens to be my husband’s surname; a name the family were forced to take on after the Reconquista by the Catholic kings when all Jews had to convert to Christianity or be kicked out of Spain. To demonstrate their new Christian identities these families were given the surnames of saints, surnames that nevertheless marked them out as former Jews.
Fiestas of San Isidro
Isidro’s life is commemorated every year on May 15 when Madrid holds a long weekend of festivities. Saint Isidro isn’t Madrid’s only saint, however, the female patron saint of the city is the Virgin of the Almudena and her saint’s day is celebrated on November 9.
Keen to find out more about the history of Madrid? See another side of the city with one of my unique walking tours.