Church of San Isidro el Real

Church of San Isidro, Madrid

The Baroque Church of San Isidro el Real (Colegiata de San Isidro el Real) was Madrid's cathedral until La Almudena became the official cathedral in 1993. It is still used for important religious celebrations in the life of the city.

It was originally built between 1622 and 1664 as the church of the Colegio Imperial de la Compañía de Jesús (Jesuit College), according to a design by Pedro Sánchez. In 1789, after the expulsion of the Jesuits by Charles III, the building was refurbished by Ventura Rodríguez, one of Spain's most illustrious Baroque/Neoclassical architects.

In terms of art history, the church contains an altarpiece by Sebastián Herrera and paintings by Claudio Coello, Herrera and Ricci, as well as sculptures by Juan Pascual de Mena.

San Isidro (St. Isidore) is the patron saint of Madrid (as well as of farm workers), and the city holds annual processions in his honour every 15th May. The fiesta of San Isidro in May sees Madrileños in traditional dress heading for the Plaza Mayor, where there is traditional dancing and concerts. The fiesta also marks the start of Madrid's bullfighting season.

The saint himself was born in the 11th century in Madrid, living there until his death at nearly 90, and he is remembered chiefly for his good works towards the poor and to animals. A series of miracles are attributed to him in the city, including raising people from the dead, and he was canonised in 1622.

On the most famous occasion, his prayers are said to have raised his own son from the dead by causing the waters of the well in his house to rise, after his son had fallen into it. The well is said to contain healing water, and to have cured illness.

San Isidro was originally buried in the Church of San Andres in Madrid, but he and his wife's bodies were transferred to San Isidro after the church was built over the site of the house where the saint had lived with his wife and son. The famous well, site of one of his miracles, is located under the altar.

The Church dedicated to San Isidro can be found in the historic centre of Madrid, at number 37 Calle de Toledo, within easy reach of the Plaza Mayor and El Rastro Flea Market. It is close to La Latina Metro station, and can also be reached on bus numbers 23 and 50.

This is definitely the place to be during Easter week, when 2 large religious images are brought out of the church doors to take part in the religious processions of Semana Santa. The young men carrying these images have to get down almost on to their knees to lower the heavy platforms on which the icons stand, in order for them to fit through the door.