Chulapos dancing chotis on San Isidro Day in Madrid, Source: Depositphotos

San Isidro: Madrid celebrates its patron saint

San Isidro: Madrid celebrates its patron saint

This is the day when all madrileños take local pride in their city and culture

Come 15 May and if you’re in Madrid you’ll start noticing a lot of people wearing old-timey clothes: the men in grey caps, grey waistcoats and black trousers, and the women in fringed mantilla head scarves with a tucked carnation and hand fans. That’s because the people of Madrid are celebrating the patron saint festival of their city – San Isidro Labrador.

Every town and village has a patron saint day that locals honour with a lot of merriment and folkloric traditions, so why would the Spanish capital be any different? On this day, however, don’t call the people madrileños; they prefer to be known by another moniker – chulapos and chulapas.

San Isidro was a real person and a madrileño, a local farmer from this area, who lived in the 11-12th centuries, long before Madrid became a capital and before there was even Spain. He worked as a helper for a wealthy landowner and was renowned for his piety, hard work ethic and generous soul. Some 438 miracles have been attributed to his life story and his remains were found to be incorruptible a century after his death, resulting in his canonization in the 18th century.

It was in 1769, that his remains, together with those of his wife Maria Torribia, were moved to the Church of San Isidro by King Carlos III, where they are still kept to this day and where visitors go to pay their respects on his festive day of 15 May.

It celebrates Madrid’s working class

The life of San Isidro Labrador (the second word means “labourer” in Spanish) glorifies the hard-working life and aims to show that the common man can also achieve sainthood just by living a virtuous, dignified and simple life.

Even now, people wear the costumes of the 19th-century working-class chulapos and chulapas, who were proud of their status and quite confident, hence their nickname. It derives from the Spanish word “chulo” – a confident and cheeky person.

Aside from the religious festivals and the drinking of San Isidro’s water, the outdoor party in his eponymous park (Pradera de San Isidro) is the biggest tradition of the day. These days you’ll hear all kinds of music played at these parties, but traditionally, the soundtracks were zarzuelas.



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