Some say that the Iglesia de San Andrés is built on the area where Madrid’s patron saint, San Isidro and his family lived in the 11th-12th centuries. Inside the church, go to the chapel of San Isidro and you will be near where the older chapel dedicated to him once stood.
It was later though, from 1622-1657, when locals built the current church on this spot. They kepy San Isidro’s remains here until 1769 when they transferred them to Madrid’s Basilica de San Isidro where they remain.
Try to imagine this part of Madrid connecting to farmland and this farmer saint who labored in it, bringing the harvest to market nearby in the Plaza de la Paja. At least two of San Isidro’s 400-plus miracles took place in this vicinity.
San Isidro was born in Madrid when it was still a medieval Muslim town. The exact date of his birth and death vary, but the popular account that influences his worship places his birth in 1082, a few years before Alfonso VI took Madrid from Muslim rule.
Whatever the exact date of his birth, it is certain that he lived during this dramatic change of rule in Madrid and that he lived all his life in the presence of Muslims, Jews, and Christians in a diverse, intermixed society.
By popular account, Isidro lived for 90 years, dying in 1172. During his life he married María de la Cabeza and together they had a son, named Illán. Mother and father have been sainted and all three family members are recognized as miracle workers.
Isidro was the salt of the earth, working the soil, from digging wells to planting and harvesting. He worked for one of Madrid’s wealthiest landowners, Iván de Vargas.
In 1212, 40 years after his death, King Alfonso VIII of Castile exhumed Isidro’s body in order to seek the saint’s counsel on the battle of las Navas de Tolosa. Whatever the advice, it clearly was effective as this was the decisive battle that marked the beginning of the end for Islamic Spain. (By 1248, all but the Muslim Kingdom of Granada would remain, which held on until 1492).
Then as now, San Isidro’s body has remained incorrupt: over 800 years later his body is sound and whole without the aid of mummifying substances. His remains are placed on rare public display for special occasions, such as the in 2012 that marked the 800 anniversary of his post-mortem assistance to Alfonso VIII in Las Navas de Tolosa.