The story of Saint Isidore the Labourer

a painting of La Pradera de San Isidro, crowds gather outside a hermitage in a mountainous landscape.

Who was San Isidro, the patron saint of Madrid?

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Saint Isidore is the patron saint of Madrid, where he lived and died. Born around 1082, he was a peasant who worked his lord’s land as a tenant in exchange for rent, as was normal at this time.

Saint Isidore is also considered the patron saint of farmers and rural communities. He is often pictured in peasant clothing, carrying the tools needed to work the fields. Sometimes he is portrayed next to springs of water or fountains, as well as his oxen, alluding to the miracles he is said to have made.

a painting, Saint Isidore in a rural scene with animals behind him and people kneeling and praying by his feet.
an illustration, a portrait of Saint Isidore who stands in a field, he carries a tool and light shines down on him from the sky.

In Isidore’s time, Madrid and the land around it belonged to one of the independent Muslim kingdoms formed after the dissolution of the Caliphate of Cordoba.

His family was likely Mozarab, which meant that they kept their Christian faith even though they lived in Muslim territory. The area would return to Christianity in 1085, shortly after he was born after Alfonso VI besieged its capital, Toledo.

What miracles did Saint Isidore perform?

The saint's life and miracles are found in the Codex of Saint Isidore, which dates from the 13th century.

The text narrates how he would often miraculously multiply food for those less fortunate, as well as for his fellow field workers and birds that suffered from the lack of food in winter. It is also said that his oxen could plough the fields on their own while he prayed, so he never lost a day of work.

a painting, Saint Isidore looks to the skies, he carries a tool, people are kneeling by his feet, one with a horse.

Other tales of his miracles have survived thanks to oral tradition.

The most well-known among them is the miracle of the fountain. One summer day, Saint Isidore's lord was thirsty, so, using one of his farming tools, the saint made a fountain spring from the ground where they stood.

He is said to have had an exceptional skill to find water sources and wells, and thus it is common to ask him for rain in springtime.

a black and white line drawing, Saint Isidore stands with an outstretched arm over a kneeling person, his lord; other people and a horse are lined up behind them.

How is Saint Isidore celebrated?

Every year, on May 15, the feast of Saint Isidore (Fiesta de San Isidro) is celebrated in Madrid with a pilgrimage to his temple.

There, people drink water from his fountain, which has been previously blessed, eat pastries, dress as a chulapa or chulapo (like in the poster below), and dance the chotis, the traditional dance of Madrid.

a painting of La Pradera de San Isidro , groups of people celebrating, dancing and playing musical instruments in a hilly landscape with trees and a lake in the background.
a poster for Fiestas de San Isidro with an illustration of a man and woman in profile, dressed as a chulapo and chulapa; she holds a yellow fan.

Saint Isidore is also the patron saint of other Spanish towns, like Rosal de la Frontera, in Huelva, or La Orotava, in Tenerife. He is also worshipped in other parts of the world, such as Honduras, Argentina and the Philippines.

black and white photograph, people making a procession on a street with others watching from the sides.

Saint Isidore's remains are located in the Collegiate Church that bears his name, alongside those of his wife, Saint Mary of the Head. She receives the name 'of the Head' because her skull was venerated as a relic in Torrelaguna, where it is said she was born.

black and white illustration, a woman stands on rocks in a river, she holds a candle and oil lamp with a halo around her head.

According to popular belief, Saint Isidore and Saint Mary had a son, Illán, who, unlike his parents, is not considered an official saint by the Catholic Church. However, he is worshipped like a saint in some towns such as Cebolla, in Toledo, where he is believed to have settled and worked his miracles.

Saint Isidore is also closely related to the Spanish monarchy. All the royal houses have worshipped the saint, believing, especially, in his healing powers.

His body has been taken out in procession and prayed to as a way to ask for help in cases of illness or imminent death of a member of the royal family. This was the case of Mariana of Neuburg and Maria Amalia of Saxony, both queens consort of Spain.

black and white illustration, a tall altar in a large church space, with people worshipping.

It is also said that King Felipe II was cured of an illness after drinking from a spring believed to be the same Saint Isidore made appear for his lord.

As a way to thank the saint, Felipe’s mother, Isabel of Portugal, ordered a hermitage to be built in that place, which is now known as 'la Pradera de San Isidro' (Saint Isidore’s meadow).

a black and white photograph of Saint Isidrore’s hermitage with a dome and steeple.