Saint Isidore. History and devotion

St. Isidore's current events come as a surprise. A 12th century farmer is still alive in the technological era of the 21st century. His life, and the devotion that has been maintained over the centuries, remind us that he is an example that does not go out of fashion.

Cristina Tarrero-October 13, 2022-Reading time: 3 minutes
saint isidore labrador

The Almudena Cathedral The property is linked to the figure of saint Isidore the farmer that help us to shape and discover his figure. His body rests in the collegiate church that bears his name, but its link with the main temple of Madrid is evident from the moment one enters the temple to pray. The Almudena Cathedral since 1993 has exhibited the ark that contained the body of the saint. This Jubilee year, the ark, without moving from its initial location, has been museumized and allows the visitor a more detailed and thorough look. In it we can discover his miracles and the first image of the saint that was captured and that undoubtedly brings us closer to the medieval world, an image very different from the one that is presented today. According to the painting of the ark, Isidro with a halo over his head (halo or nimbus), wears as attire the long tunic typical of the Castilian farmers, the saya, with narrow sleeves. His representation is very familiar since he is accompanied by Saint María de la Cabeza, his wife. This image is very different from the one that has come down to us and that we recognize in carvings and canvases, since it was fixed at the end of the 16th century and beginning of the 17th century, when it was canonized and followed models of the modern age and not medieval ones. It is, therefore, the image of the ark the most faithful artistic representation of the saint because he wears the clothing that corresponds to him. 

In this same chapel we can contemplate some small lions, which supported the ark and two figures of the saintly couple made by the sculptor Alonso de Villalbrille y Ron, of a great quality. The miracles that are described in the ark are of full actuality because they show us the prayer of the saint during the work, the care of the nature taking care of the pigeons, and the help that together with his wife he gave to the needy. 

To approach the girola this Jubilee year and see the ark of the saint, is not only to know his image and discover one of his first tombs, but to deepen in his figure through a chronogram that has been installed and that unravels the fervor that he has aroused throughout history. In this chronogram we will not only travel through Madrid and the faith of so many devotees, but we will also be surprised by the devotion that the Spanish kings professed to him. In one of the panels you can see a photograph of the silver ark that we saw last May when St. Isidore processed to the Cathedral. It was a gift from Queen Mariana of Neoburg and completed the one made a few years earlier on the occasion of his beatification. The brotherhood of the silversmiths of Madrid in 1619 had made an exceptional piece to guard the body of the saint when he was beatified, and in 1692 Queen Mariana of Neoburg, being ill, entrusted herself to the saint to request his recovery; for this, his body was transferred to the royal apartments. Once she recovered, she attributed this healing to the intervention of Saint Isidore and ordered the construction of a new interior which is the one that is currently preserved. We have only been able to contemplate this ark during the exhibition and veneration last May of the incorrupt body of the saint, since it keeps the body inside the urn that is exhibited in the Collegiate Church of San Isidro. The piece commissioned by the queen is made of walnut and it is made of silk with silver filigree and has eight locks. It was made by the silversmith Simón Navarro, the embroiderer José Flores and the locksmith, Tomas Flores. On the occasion of the centenary of the canonization, it has been restored by the Martínez silversmith workshop, the restoration having been paid for by the Cathedral Chapter, the heir of the Cabildo of San Isidro, which was in charge of the care and devotion to the saint and had its headquarters in the Collegiate Church before the diocese was constituted. 

The Cathedral Chapter also keeps exceptional pieces that bring us closer to the devotion to Saint Isidore, among them the codex of Juan Diácono and the terno of his canonization. The codex is the oldest text that collects the miracles of the saint, is dated around the thirteenth century and is a transcendental document to know him. It describes the miracles he performed and served as a guide to the priests who guarded the body and attended to the pilgrims who came to the parish of St. Andrew, where he was initially buried. The codex has been studied on many occasions and this year, on the occasion of the Jubilee Year, the Cathedral Chapter has commissioned the Institute of Madrilenian Studies to digitize and translate it in order to make it known. Its reading is undoubtedly enriching. On the other hand, along with other objects, the museum exhibits the robe traditionally considered to have been worn in 1622 at the canonization and which is exceptionally well preserved. For all these reasons, the cathedral is a place to visit this Jubilee year. It complements the tours of Isidrian temples and reminds us that devotion to the patron saints of the diocese has always been closely linked.

The authorCristina Tarrero

Director of the Almudena Cathedral Museum. Madrid

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