The festival you must visit: The San Isidro festivitals


San Isidro is one of the Patron Saints of Madrid. Every 15th of May the city gets dressed in the typical clothes of Madrid to give life, color, and happiness to celebrate his day.

Who is San Isidro? 

Isidro’s real name was Isidro de Merla y Quintana. But he’s more known as Isidro, the Farm Laborer, also known as Isidore the Farmer. He was a Spanish farmworker who lived in Madrid from 1082 to 1172. Isidro became a saint because of the great number of miracles that he made.

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San Isidro: Consulta el santoral de hoy, 15 de mayo | Sociedad

What did he do to become a Saint? Here are some examples:

  • Isidro usually attended Mass at one of the churches in Madrid. One day, his fellow farmworkers complained to their master that he was always late for work in the morning. Upon investigation, the master found Isidro at prayer while an angel was doing the plowing for him and leaving the lands in perfect conditions. 
  • Isidore’s wife, Maria, always kept a pot of stew on the fireplace in their home, as Isidro would often bring home anyone who was hungry. One day he brought home more hungry people than usual. After she served many of them, Maria told him that there was no more stew in the pot. He insisted that she check the pot again, and she was able to spoon out enough stew to feed them all.
  • After a hard workday, Isidro went back home to get together with his wife Maria and their only child, Illán. When he arrived, he found his wife crying. Their son had fallen into a deep well. They both began to pray by the well, and miraculously the water began to rise until the boy rose to the surface safe and sound.

File:Pozo san isidro madrid.jpgThe well that Illán fell into. This is now located in El museo de San Isidro, Madrid.

  • One very hot day when Isidro was working in the fields, his lord, Iván de Vargas, visited him, asking for water. The Saint realized that he had run out of his, so he hit the ground with his stick, saying “When God wanted water, there was water here.” The water began to gush out of the ground. But apart from that, he made a lot of miracles related to the water, and that is why he is always represented with his stick in his right hand.

But apart from making his miracles in life, he made others after his death. One of them says that when his body was exhumed some decades after his death he was found in perfect conditions, completely incorrupt. San Isidro died on the 15th of May, 1172.

How is San Isidro celebrated? 

The San Isidro church is located near Parque de San Isidro (the meadows of San Isidro). At 1 p.m. on the day of the festival, the church celebrates a mass dedicated to the Saint. Believers can drink water at this service and venerate the saint’s remains, which reside in the church. Thousands make the pilgrimage to line up and drink or take home water that’s said to be blessed by San Isidro. This is where, according to legend, the son of Isidro was saved from drowning after falling into the well. Others go to the San Isidro Museum, which is built around the well his son is said to have fallen into. Later in the afternoon, images of San Isidro and his wife, Santa María de la Cabeza, are paraded through the streets. 

File:Madrid - Carabanchel - Ermita de San Isidro 01.jpg
La Ermita de San Isidro / San Isidore’s church

Typical food and drink:

At the San Isidro Festival, it’s common to sell traditional Spanish dishes, including paella, Iberian ham, and various types of other barbequed meat. But in the San Isidro festivities, there are other foods that should be eaten, especially at this time of the year, for example:

  • Lemonade should be sipped on the picnic – but it’s not an ordinary lemonade! The San Isidro lemonade version consists of lemon, sugar, and chopped apples. 

The traditional pastry is las rosquillas, a sweet donut type-biscuit that comes in different varieties. There are four types: 

  1. Las Listas (Clever / smart ones) are topped with sugar and lemon. 
File:Rosquillas listas.JPG

2. Las Tontas – (stupid ones) have nothing. These are the most famous ones. 

File:Rosquillas tontas.JPG

3. Santa Clara has glazed sugar and meringue.

File:Rosquillas de Santa Clara 054.JPG

4. Las Francesas is made with almonds.

File:Rosquillas francesas-Madrid.jpg


Traditional garb for San Isidro includes chulapo and chulapa outfits. These clothes resemble the type of dress that members of the middle and working classes wore in the 1800s. For women, a chulapa outfit consists of a long dress or skirt, often red- or black-and-white polka-dotted, with a wide flare and lantern sleeves. They often complete their look by wrapping an embroidered shawl around their shoulders or waist. For men, the chulapo outfit consists of a white button-up shirt worn beneath a checkered white-and-back vest worn with black slacks. 

Ropa típica de Madrid - Las chulapas o chulapos y el traje castellano
Women wearing chulapas. Men wearing chulapos

Traditional dance:

‘El Chotis’ is a traditional folk dance. The men don’t move much at all, while the women do, by moving around with the man in circles. 

El origen popular del traje de chulapo, una indumentaria con gran recorrido  histórico
Couples performing ‘el chotis’

So if you happen to be in Madrid this week, make sure to go and enjoy the San Isidro festivities! There will be concerts, funfairs you can ride on and fireworks.

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