Every year on May 15th the festival of San Isidro comes round again. Apart from Isidore being the patron saint of his hometown, Madrid – which inevitably sees huge celebrations – the 11th century farm worker is also the revered saint of farmers in towns across the peninsula, above all in Andalucia. The cult spread to Spanish colonies too, notably the Philippines where that same date marks their harvest festival. Yet in 2024, it seems his heroic status is waning in parts of Andalucia.

Local flamenco dancers twirl and whirl for San Isidro, in Iznajar

As I’m not always in my Andalucian holiday house near Iznajar on the crucial date (in fact it’s the Saturday nearest the 15th), I haven’t witnessed the fiesta for some time – since 2011. A long time – sometimes I just didn’t know it was on. But back then it was quite a sight – tractors, dancers, floats elaborately decorated with agricultural symbols, cloth and horse-riders in sharp outfits and those classic (classy) flat hats. Or, more often, flat caps – the go-to for una cerveza.

Horse, flat cap, cig – & cerveza. All for San Isidro!

Naturally beer, sherry and wine flowed through the afternoon long into the night. This all took place on a sandy arena of land by Iznajar’s lake (a huge reservoir dating from the Franco era) which offered easy access from surrounding hamlets. Each float tried to outdo the other, while villagers feasted in the shade of the canopies and families came out in force.

More scenes from 2011 – kitsch or otherwise

So who was Isidro – or Saint Isidore?

A devout Catholic and farm worker who allegedly did much for the poor and for animals, Isidore married but only had one son. Now there hangs a tale. Apparently one day his son toppled into a deep well but thanks to his parents’ prayers was saved. How? Somehow the water-level miraculously rose – bearing the boy with it, alive and well. Fervent thanks followed as well as a mutual vow of sexual abstinence which led to the parents living in separate houses. Sadly this didn’t help their son who later died from an unrelated illness.

There is a litany of tales about Isidro, his piety, his immense generosity to the underfed and about how angels often flew down to lend a hand with his farm work… Read more here. It’s said, too, that he accomplished some 438 miracles – an impressive total. But as with many saintly stories – who knows?

Father and daughter off for a saunter

San Isidro in 2024

This year, though, it was all change in Iznajar – and may have been for a few years following housing development around the original site. Now the location is further along the lake, partly on the beach and partly in what is normally a car-park for a popular chiringuito. Here crowds of punters ambushed a temporary bar overlooking the lake where only a few floats were parked on the beach. Not what it was.

Mid-afternoon, May 15th, 2024 – still kicking off
A solitary float on the beach, 2024

Up above in the chiringuito, sitting with a friend on the deliciously shady terrace, we sipped claras (my preferred summer daytime drink – basically a shandy), while watching the rather limited action. Soon I asked the waitress how long the party would last. “Oh!” she said, holding an imaginary bottle to her mouth and tossing her head of black locks back, “Till late at night – but I’ll be well gone by then!”

Two horse-riders who had trotted in from afar were happy to chat, but soon concentrated on snacking and imbibing. If only San Isidro knew how his sainthood is celebrated today.